The Way of the Sly Man (Being Time Records)

Dave Morgan

Released June 22, 2010

All About Jazz The Most Exciting Jazz Albums Since 1969




Take the understanding of the East, and the knowledge of the West—and then seek. G.I. Gurdjieff

The search is what everyone would undertake if he were not stuck in the everydayness of his own life. To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

Jack Schantz approached me three years ago with the idea of creating a concert-length piece of music inspired by the life and teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. Since then I have immersed myself in Gurdjieff, contemplating how I might express his concepts objectively through the medium of instrumental music. Jack’s original vision included the formal idea of the four movements based on the four Ways. The Fakir would be represented by sounds of the East, percussion instruments, and Howie Smith’s soprano saxophone. The Monk would be represented by Western sacred music and feature his trumpet playing, while the Yogi would be represented by twentieth-century concepts of composition and feature Bob Fraser’s guitar. The Sly Man movement would be a synthesis and transformation of the first three movements, culminating in a reconciliation of disparate influences, and feature the improvisations of Dan Wall. At some point in the compositional process the four sections became divided into nine movements, representing the points of the enneagram, an important symbol in Gurdjieff’s cosmology.
Gurdjieff realized that not all people learn in the same way. He thus presented his teachings through a variety of idioms, including lectures, dances (the movements), literature, and music. While not a trained musician, he played and improvised melodies on the harmonium, many of which recalled from his journeys to the East. This music was transcribed and arranged by Thomas de Hartmann in close collaboration with Gurdjieff. Close study of this music was a way for me to gain an immediate connection to the essence of Gurdjieff.
The opening movement, “The Search (Seekers of the Truth),” recalls Gurdjieff’s early journeys, and is influenced Gurdjieff/de Hartmann’s Music of the Sayyids and the Dervishes. The Seekers of Truth—a small group Gurdjieff belonged to as a young man that was looking for nothing less that the meaning of life—searched for lost esoteric manuscripts and hidden spiritual orders. Howie Smith’s soprano saxophone improvisation evokes the extreme physical feats of the Fakir. The world of the Fakir is further explored in “The Law of Three (Dervish Dance),” which evokes Sufi whirling dervishes. The musical structure of this movement is based on Gurdjieff’s Law of Three, which states that creation or change in all fields occurs only when three forces interact: affirmation, negation, and reconciliation. He demonstrated the applicability of this law to a number of fields, including religion, science, law, and psychology. The second traditional path to enlightenment is the Way of the Monk, which is the path through God, focusing on the emotional center and faith in the traditional sense. In Bhakti—a practice that arose many centuries ago during the period of epic poetry in India—an intense reverence and devotion to the Divine supersedes everything else. The opening chorale melody of “Bhakti” evokes the spirit of hymns from the world’s great religions. Soloists Schantz and Dan Wall improvise their own meditations on the melody and harmony of the choral tune, much in the spirit of J.S. Bach’s variations on chorale tunes, his great chorale preludes. In order to be free oneself from living mechanically, Gurdjieff found that one must stop identifying. He taught that our conditioning and education cause most of us live our lives as unconscious automatons, oblivious to our own real potential. We “identify” with whatever captures our attention at any given moment, barely noticing our inner fragmentation. We are lost to ourselves by chasing after every thought, emotion, and sensation that crosses our radar screen. Identifying is similar to the notion of attachment and non-attachment in the Buddhist tradition. “Identifyin’ (Blues for G)” is a musical exploration of identification. It is a 12-bar blues, an archetypal formal structure found in all styles of jazz and American popular music. In this movement, I think of certain parallels between Gurdjieff’s teaching and the path of the jazz musician in the twentieth-first century. Like the jazz musician, Gurdjieff’s teaching was largely improvised. He was constantly looking for the approach that would work in any given situation. Like the Fourth Way, the jazz musician is on an inner path to esoteric knowledge while living in the world.
The exploration of the Way of the Monk concludes with the ballad “Essence.” Gurdjieff taught that one must learn to distinguish between personality and essence. Personality is all of the affectations we pick up through the educational process, and through imitating and accommodating everything around us. Essence is the core we are born with, a core that becomes increasingly undeveloped and hidden in most people. The Work involves techniques for containing personality and developing essence. I couldn’t think of a sound that evokes essence any more directly than Tom Reed’s masterful clarinet playing.
The Way of the Yogi is the path of the intellect and the attainment of knowledge. In jazz there is quite a bit of harmonic and rhythmic information that one needs to master in order to become fluent improviser. In “Harmonious Development” soloists Bob Fraser, Schantz and Wall exhibit their vast knowledge of harmony as they navigate this somewhat tricky set of chord changes. Gurdjieff established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Château Le Prieuré at Fontainebleau-Avon in October 1922, after migrating for four years with a small group of followers in escaping the Russian Revolution.
The formal structure, sculpture, bas-reliefs, and placement of hieroglyphic texts of the temple complex at Karnak, Egypt encodes all of the scientific, artistic, and religious information known at the time. It is a perfect example of Gurdjieff’s concept of objective art. In Gurdjieff’s epic novel, Beezlebub’s Tales To His Grandson, Beezlebub travels on the spaceship Karnak. “Karnak (Stop)” explores rhythmic concepts. The thorny terrain of this movement echoes the complexity of Gurdjieff’s novel. The entire piece is notated in common time (4/4), but various melodies implying other time signatures are superimposed throughout, including 7/4, 15/4 against 14/4, 7/4+5/4, and 8/4+7/4. The 4/4 meter is undermined to the point that when the music is finally in 4/4, it seems like an odd meter. This movement features improvisations by Howie Smith (5/4+7/4) and Dan Wall (7/4). The movement also evokes Gurdjieff’s well-known Stop exercise. At any moment he might shout “Stop.” All present would freeze in place and fix their eyes on whatever was in front of them. Their bodies remained motionless, and they were to hold whatever thought was in mind, until Gurdjieff shouted “Davay!” (“Continue!”).
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Gurdjieff Work is the concept of self-remembering. Quite simply, this means to be as present as possible in each given moment. With attention, the depth of our impressions and experience increases, and the inner world of the self begins to play a part in one’s everyday activities. Gurdjieff’s concept of “remembering one’s self” is related to Zen Buddhism’s “every minute Zen.” “Remembering (I Am Here)” features the flugelhorn of Jack Schantz. The Ways of the Fakir, Monk, and Yogi require a withdrawing from the world. The Fourth Way involves doing the doing the work in the midst of your everyday life, requiring above all else, being awake. The ultimate teacher is within one’s self. The esoteric circle consists of those who attain the highest possible development, possessing individuality, an indivisible ‘I’. The final movement “Esoteric Circle (The Fourth Way)” is a synthesis of the three traditional ways and the music I’ve used to represent them. Physicality, emotion, and intellect combine as through the fusion of the 2+3 rhythmic scheme, Eastern melody, and Western harmony. The improvisation by Dan Wall provides a “shock,” the introduction of a new impulse that will carry the movement across the barrier imposed by the writing and push the music to the higher level of energy needed to illuminate the synthesis of the diverse elements together in a synergy.

Become the possessor of your own sound ideas and don’t accept anything on faith.

G.I. Gurdjieff

Track Listing:

1. The Search (Seekers of the Truth) 08:30

2. The Law of Three (Dervish Dance) The Way of the Monk 08:23

3. Bhakti 07:16

4. Identifyin’ (Blues for G) 06:36

5. Essence The Way of the Yogi 06:55

6. Harmonious Development 08:30

7. Karnak (Stop) The Way of the Sly Man 07:28

8. Remembering (I Am Here) 08:12

9. Esoteric Circle 09:22


Howie Smith: soprano and alto saxophone, clarinet

John Klayman: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute

Tom Reed: baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet

Jack Schantz: trumpet and flugelhorn, harmonium

Bill Hoyt: French horn

Chris Anderson: trombone

Dan Wall: piano and keyboards

Bob Fraser: guitars

Dave Morgan: double bass

Ron Busch: vibraphone (tracks 2, 7, 9)

Nate Douds: drums (tracks 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Val Kent: drums (track 4)

Jamey Haddad: World percussion (tracks 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9)

Recorded at Audio Recording Studios by Bruce Gigax

Mixed at Five/Four Productions by Michael Bishop

Album Design by Jack Schantz

Cover Painting by Chris McCullough

Produced by Dave Morgan and Jack Schantz


The teachings of 20th century mystic G. I. Gurdjieff have appealed to their share of artists, pianist Keith Jarrett, guitarist Robert Fripp and singer Kate Bush being among the more famous musicians to fall under Gurdjieff’s spell. Jarrett, in fact, went so far as to record an album of Gurdjieff’s solo piano music—G.I. Gurdjieff Sacred Hymns (ECM, 1980). It’s unclear how devout a follower bassist Dave Morgan is (he notes that trumpeter Jack Schantz approached him with the idea for this concert-length piece), but nor does it matter. The result is an inspiring, moving piece of music for those of all persuasions along the religious/philosophical continuum.
The piece is divided into four parts, representing Gudjieff’s teachings on the so-called “Fourth Way”: “The Way of the Fakir,” “The Way of the Monk,” “The Way of the Yogi” and “The Way of the Sly Man.” Like October 2009’s concert premieres of the piece, the recording features members of The Jazz Unit, a variable group of 10 or so musicians who held court for a number of years at The Bop Stop club in Cleveland.
“The Way of the Fakir” is a two-part movement consisting of “The Search (Seekers of the Truth)” and “The Law of Three (Dervish Dance).” The first features the screams and screeches of Howie Smith’s soprano saxophone over a droning, Indian-like buzz and in response to deep, formidable group-horn melodies. Smith’s improvisations elicit notes of both a Sisyphusian and Einsteinian struggle. On the heels of this howling raga, comes the decidedly peppy dervish number, led by Morgan’s stepping bass. Horn choruses twirl around Morgan’s core for a few minutes before giving way to the deeper pull of Chris Anderson’s trombone, and then Bob Fraser’s Spanish guitar with flamenco-handclap underpinnings that feed back into the surging theme.
Where the Fakir represents the physical path to enlightenment, “The Way of the Monk” focuses on the religious, faith-based path. Here Morgan leads off with the anthemic “Bhakti,” which recalls Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra themes (some of which members of The Jazz Unit performed, under Haden’s direction, at April 2010’s Tri-C Jazz Festival), and gives pianist Dan Wall considerable room to stretch, space he makes lively use of. “Identifyin’ (Blues for G)” is perhaps the most interesting of Morgan’s interpretations of Gurdjieffian thought. Here, he and the Unit play off the 12-bar blues form, that touchstone of American music, returning to it as a means of refocusing and honing their musical search toward truth, as it were, thus complementing Gurdjieff’s insistence on freeing oneself from the distractions of the outside world to focus on what’s within. “Essence,” then, purportedly exposes that within. A place that proves to be rather despondent and rain-soaked, its deep horn chorus offset—if not spiritually lifted—by the wistfully sad, solo clarinet work of Tom Reed.
Fraser opens “Harmonious Development” (and “The Way of the Yogi” movement) with a minute-and-a-half solo electric guitar intro, keeping within a classical, Spanish-tinged mode. The others join him for a breezy, conventional jazz number—composer Morgan once again linking the basic disciplines of jazz to Gurdjieff’s ideas about human fulfillment. With “Karnak (Stop),” an emphatic, pulsing number, the composer hopes to capture the feel of Gurdjieff’s “Stop” exercises, wherein the mystic would, at a given moment, shout “Stop,” inciting his followers to freeze and hold their thoughts. In additional hopes of capturing the intentional complexity of Gurdjieff’s allegorical novel, Beezlebub’s Tales To His Grandson,” Morgan lays melodies and improvisations in various time-signatures over a base 4/4.
“Remembering (I Am Here)” and “Esoteric Circle” comprise the final movement, “The Way of the Sly Man.” Whereas “The Ways of the Fakir, Monk, and Yogi require a withdrawing from the world,” Morgan notes in the booklet accompanying the CD, “The Fourth Way involves doing the work in the midst of your everyday life.” Yet “Remembering,” which features the bittersweet crooning of Schantz’s flugelhorn, proves to be one of the more introspective sections of the entire piece. But “Esoteric Circle” recaptures some of the real-world surge from earlier sections, and is also one of the loosest sections, driving through the spotlighted (and most-modern sounding) playing of individual members, as if, in the Gurdjieffian context, the musicians are breaking from a group study session to take what they have learned out into their own, individual lives.
This is an ambitious piece of music making. To attempt to capture the essence of specific philosophical teachings and modes of being is, whether you agree with the philosophical principles or not, a daunting task. But whether Morgan’s composition ultimately captures Gurdjieffian thought and practice is a matter of not much importance. The work—in composition and execution—is one of both enthralling scope and intimacy, at once sounding and swelling the human urge for betterment and fulfillment, whatever the path. This is something Gurdjieff himself, no doubt, could get behind. In any event, there’s little else for music—or art, in general—to strive for.

Matt Marshall (All About Jazz)