Only Breath
by Jami Sieber & Kim Rosen

Out Front Music, 2007. ISBN B000W4KST2.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 12/28/2007

Music; Poetry

Luckily, blessedly, for them and for us, poet Kim Rosen and cellist Jami Sieber have tapped into the ancient partnership between poetry and music on this CD of spoken poetry and music. Sieber's cello is not merely background to the poetry but a soulful resonance that carries the words like a buoyant river.

The CD opens with Rosen's recitation of Pablo Neruda's "Poetry" about how he discovered poetry or rather how poetry found him. She doesn't read the poem. She has memorized it, thereby embodying the words. Sieber's electric and acoustic cello, as well as her own vocals, offer multiple layers of memory in an alchemical blend of wonder. Although the piece may lead you to a book of Neruda poems, you won't be able to read them without the sound of the cello in your heart.

As the two collaborators say, "Great poetry, on its own, can unlock patterns of thought so that gusts of pure insight blow through. Music can literally enter the pulsations of the body and awaken the heart." Listening to the CD, I came to experience that awakening. Poems, some of which I already knew, were brought to life because of the attention paid to them and the mindful intention of Rosen and Sieber. Also, when you hear a poem, there is your own remembering: a revelation, a conscious acknowledgment, and then a letting go.

"Before the Beginning" is a blend of music and spoken word based on the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. "Let everything into you: Beauty and Terror," Rilke's words say as translated by Rosen and Maria Krekeler. The words float through a current of cello and bansuri bamboo flute played by Steve Gorn.

There is so much richness on the CD with the words, the poems written and recited as a sacred practice in a magical weaving with music. It causes one to rejoice and dance! And every time you listen, there will be more layers revealed to you. "River" is a rousing presentation of Stanley Kunitz's "King of the River." Other musicians join the pair on this one as well as vocalist Rhiannon. Rilke is again celebrated in "Beyond the Light," which also includes the words of Marina Tsvetaeva and the voices of singing group Ulali.

The title, "Only Breath," is from Rumi's poem, which is included as an exhilarating homage to the Whirling Dirvish who has inspired us for 800 years. Another piece, entitled "Inside the Soul," features Rumi's "Dance with the Bandage Torn Off," translated by Coleman Barks. If you haven't danced up to this point, you will with the wonderful world-rhythm beat of this one.

Kim Rosen has memorized hundreds of poems by beloved poets of the world. Her own words are here, too, including her poem called "Practice." It is about her spiritual practice that isn't about the "high mountain monastery" at all, but the very real aloneness and courage that occurs in a woman's life. Sieber plays the singing bowls to create a reverence for the poem's words. The presentation of it becomes a spiritual practice.

One can only imagine the bubbling excitement of Rosen and Sieber as they dreamed the voices and instruments of those they would invite to join them. Then the sheer amazement as the magical layers offered celebrations of the sacred.

Kim Rosen is a poet, spoken word artist and guide of self-inquiry and transformation. She has a B.A. from Yale University and an M.F.A. in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. For over twenty-five years, Rosen has led workshops and retreats in the U.S., Canada, South America, and the United Kingdom. In 1983, she began exploring the consciousness-shifting power of the interface between spoken poetry and music. Currently, Kim is working on a book about the art of learning, living and speaking poetry by heart. Visit Rosen's website.

Jami Sieber is an electric cellist, vocalist and composer whose style of performance has been recognized internationally. She is a celebrated pioneer of her instrument and received the Northwest Area Music Association (NAMA) Award for Best Rock Instrumentalist. Sieber has worked in a variety of musical settings that have taken her to China, Russia, Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Italy, France and Thailand where she improvised with the Thai Elephant Orchestra outside of Lampang. Her independently produced recording from that experience is entitled "Hidden Sky" (2004). Visit Sieber's website.

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