Accompanied by wife Nance Pettit, Wilcox musically translates poetry from an incomprehensibly diverse group of faiths: the 14th century Persian poet Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz, Jewish mystics, Zen mystics, Hindu mystics, Sufi mystics, Christian mystics and St. Francis of Assisi. While the multiplicity of perspectives suggests a potential collision, everything gels well and the singularity of vision unites all the disparate voices -- all thanks to Wilcox. The results aren't nearly as hokey or gimmicky as one might believe, but the whole is undeniably in the mellow range.
Not unlike similarly revolutionary projects, Out Beyond Ideas began simply, almost humbly, enough. Wilcox and Pettit received a collection of mystic poetry as a gift, and by chance the two experimented with setting various poems to melodies. The excitement of the initial discoveries led, over time, to a collection of arrangements that began to take significant shape. Friends and fellow musicians, hearing about the work, expressed interest in recording the poems and offered their assistance.
Eventually, the simple book of poems became another musical enterprise that helped Wilcox and Pettit attract the attention of the Center for International Development and Conflict Management based out of the University of Maryland, ultimately producing the album in its final version. But it's the songs -- and the artists' response to these poems -- that stand out. Take, for example, "How Did the Rose Ever Open." Layers of strings set the foundation for the restrained acoustic guitar, the light-handed percussion, and the harmonies created by the compatible voices. The lyrics start from a simple question, but the process of discovering the answer applies equally to the process of setting this poem to song -- the rose of the song, like the songwriters themselves, "felt the encouragement of light."
"Absolutely Clear," like "Rose," comes from the same Persian poet and extends the inspirational message from the former. Here, loneliness serves to highlight the important opportunity for self-discovery and clarity of vision. Lastly, "The Elephant Story" starts with a bass line funky enough to be Stevie Wonder-inspired. The lyrics coax out the notion of differing perspectives ultimately yielding the same truth. The rest of the album continues along these lines. Wilcox and Pettit work well together because the project is invested with so many layers of significance.
Friday's show comes in the middle of a swing through the Northwest before heading south into California. But since Wilcox has been touring virtually non-stop since last September, the performance should be well polished and something to behold. If the touring schedule suggests that Wilcox is running through his shows with a sense of urgency, it just might be attributable to the upcoming release of Vista in a few months. And who can blame him? If he must make peace with the older material before he can fully invest himself in the newer material, those in attendance will be the beneficiaries of all of Wilcox's hard work.
David Wilcox plays at the Met on Friday, March 17, at 8 pm. Tickets: $22; $25 on the day of the show. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.