These turbulent times can be a source of confusion and hopelessness even for those of us who obsess over social media feeds and 24 hour news channels. So just try explaining it to young children still forming their sense of the world! That’s the challenge faced by composer and bandleader Ezra Weiss in composing the debut album for his own Big Band. Weiss rises to the occasion with a heartbreakingly confessional and impassioned suite that’s both a loving message passed down from father to children as well as a profound and deeply felt plea for togetherness and empathy.
We Limit Not the Truth of God, was released via Origin Records, is framed by a letter penned by Weiss to his two young children. “This music is for you,” Weiss opens before quickly correcting himself: “Well, not really. It’s for me. But it’s inspired by you.” The same can be said for the text interspersed throughout the suite, which ostensibly takes the form of a parent explaining the challenges their offspring should expect to face as they embark on life in contemporary society; but it’s just as much a document of the struggles we all face in trying to make sense of a rapidly changing and increasingly divisive world.
Weiss does that the best way he knows how: through stirring and emotionally expressive music played by a stellar ensemble of first-call musicians. The brilliant 17-piece big band includes such distinctive soloists as saxophonists John Nastos, Rob Davis, Renato Caranto and Mieke Bruggeman; trumpeters Farnell Newton, Derek Sims and Thomas Barber; trombonists Stan Bock and Jeff Uusitalo; and flutist John Savage. The album was recorded live in the resonant Alberta Abbey, a historic church turned performance space in Weiss’ hometown of Portland, Oregon.
When Weiss began writing the music that would become We Limit Not the Truth of God in 2015, he expected to communicate a more light-hearted message to his youngsters. “Originally the idea was going to be that these are some of the issues we’re dealing with, but we’re getting better,” Weiss recalls. “It was going to have that optimistic slant, so by the end you’d feel hopeful and empowered about progress. Then after the 2016 election, as I was actually writing the music, that was no longer a realistic possibility.”
With countless issues to tackle, Weiss’ writing eventually focused on a single theme: the notion of the ‘other,’ how it’s used to draw lines in the sand and how it can only be rebuked by the realization that ultimately we’re all in this together. “There isn’t an ‘other,’” Weiss insists. “That became the theme of the piece.”
We Limit Not the Truth of God takes its name from a hymn written by George Rawson in 1853, based on the words delivered by Pastor John Robinson to the Pilgrims as they left Holland, eventually landing in America. It’s difficult to imagine what those pioneers might think of the country where they landed in its current, deeply riven guise, though the hymn’s inspiring words could provide as much guidance now as they did then. They’re sung on this recording by the Camas High School Choir, their young voices lending the meaningful words an even more profound dimension.
Weiss, who describes himself as “religiously agnostic but culturally Jewish,” discovered the hymn, ironically enough, while working as music director for a Christian church. Bridging the illusory divide of belief systems, the words resonated deeply with him. “In our contemporary world,” Weiss says, “we tend to make a lot of assumptions, but there’s a higher truth that we often don’t see. That’s what spoke to me about the hymn; it brings up the idea of truth, and now when we live in a world where we’re so polarized that people choose what facts they believe and don’t believe, the concept of truth has become really important.”
1. Fanfare for a Newborn | 2. Dear O. and J. | 3. Blues and the Alternative Fact | 4. You just started kindergarten | 5. José’s Drawing | 6. I don’t mean to be a downer | 7. Obergefell |8. What now | 9. We Limit Not the Truth of God (words by George Rawson, 1853) | 10. Please Know That I Love You | 11. Footprints.
Ezra Weiss, conductor
Woodwinds: John Nastos – alto/sop. saxes, clarinet | John Savage – alto, flute, alto flute | Renato Caranto – tenor sax | Rob Davis – tenor/sop. saxes, clarinet | Mieke Bruggeman – baritone sax, bass clarinet
Trumpet, Flugelhorn: Greg Garrett | Thomas Barber | Derek Sims | Farnell Newton
Trombones: Stan Bock | Jeff Uusitalo | Denzel Mendoza | Douglas Peebles – bass-trombone
Rhythm: Jasnam Daya Singh – piano | Eric Gruber – bass | Alan Jones – drums | Carlton Jackson – percussion
The Camas High School Choir (track 9) – Ethan Chessin, director.
Release Date: 16 August 2019
Format: CD, Digital & Streaming
Label: Origin Records
Last modified: June 2, 2020