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Kurt Marti Suite
Artist: Chris Walden Big Band & St. John’s Choir (2007)
Composer: Chris Walden 
Artists: Mitch Holder (guitar), Alan Steinberger (piano) and M. B. Gordy (percussion)       
Big Band Conductor: Chris Walden
Choir Director: Claus Bantzer
Origin Records 82482    
13 Tracks
Running Time: 40 minutes
Web site: www.chriswalden.com

Kurt Marti was a poet and a priest, who was born in 1921. His words combine political overtones with sparse rhetoric to achieve a point, such as in “sermon in distress” (track 11).

the place congregates

the people sing

            words come out

            the word fails to appear.

Composer and big band director Chris Walden, has taken Marti’s poetry, added musical arrangements and done a suite. Walden’s style is reminiscent of Stan Kenton with close choral arrangements like those of F. Melius Christiansen. Lyrics are sung in German, but there are English program notes. The twelve musical compositions within the suite are “catechism questions,” “hotel jesus,” “the appointment by fire,” “easter morning,” “a plea,” ‘sing praises,” “supplications,” “becoming whole,” “ray of light,” “protestant church music,” ‘sermon in distress,” “to pass away” and a separate composition by the late Michael Brecker, “Slings and Arrows.” 

German is a language that does not come easily to the tongue, and in the poems there are instances where the “s” of one word flows into the “s” of another word. Reference “gruss/sich” in “easter morning.” Also, the “w” can flow into another word, such as “ware (umlaut) /warum” in “catechism questions.” The listener cannot follow the lyrics easily here, and a minute pause would have helped. On the other hand, the lyrics in “hotel jesus” and “sing praises” are crisp and well-modulated.

The suite begins with a big band sound that is refreshingly Kenton in style. The entire group consists of eighteen musicians, utilizing saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums and vibes/percussion. Standouts are “hotel Jesus” with a saxophone jazz interlude inviting bass to come on in. This happens just before “joanna, susanna lay their checks in the register with discretion.”  “sing praises” features the choir acappella, close harmony and lyrics come through fine, including “er wende not!” 

“supplications” starts with saxophone solo and ends with a strong final chord to “god sound eternal!” “ray of light” is peaceful and begins with keyboard. The choral arrangement is another one similar to Christiansen, “HE is always together with us”  protestant church music” has the virgin becoming “a youthful frau musica” and the composition is over before you know it. “to pass away” underlines the words “to pass away, to get under the earth, to find peace” This is something we all understand.

Michael Brecker’s “Slings and Arrows” is the final jazz selection and features guitarist Mitch Holder. It is a fine piece and a good addition to the poetry of Kurt Marti. I found this CD to be intriguing as far as combining poetry with jazz. Marti uses words judiciously and Chris Walden’s musical arrangements are like that, also. You get just enough to get the main idea and nothing left over. Short, sweet and a sudden ending to make the listener sit up and take notice.

Copyright 2007 Marie Asner
Submitted 8/31/07 

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