It's a simple fact without some kind of emotional resonance, music has little purpose. Now certainly, depending on the style of music, how broadly it resonates is up for grabs. But it would be a reasonable statement that the simpler the music, the more overtly emotive it has to be, because when you strip music down to its barest essentials, if there is little of rhythmic, harmonic or melodic complexity to generate interest, then all one is left with is the raw emotion, the music's ability to be deeply evocative. One of the reasons there are so many half-baked blues bands on the scene is that while it may not take a lot of talent to play the notes, it takes a lot of talent to feel the notes.
The same thing applies to gospel music and spiritual music, which usually has similar grounding in the blues. And while pianist/organist Doug Riley and saxophonist P.J. Perry, Canadians both, have obviously spent some time trying to get inside the notes of the material that comprises Come Sunday , the unfortunate fact is that while they play with competency and a certain degree of panache, they lack the emotional depth that is necessary to make these simple songs truly sing. From original material to spiritual jazz standards by Cannonball Adderley, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Cedar Walton and John Coltrane to traditional pieces, Perry and Riley play the notes, but they just don't seem to hold the ring of truth.
Take their version of "Amazing Grace," a tune that in the right hands can be imbued with deep feeling and become something richly transcendent. While Perry and Riley do an admirable job, there's something that just doesn't feel completely committed. It is a pleasant rendition, true enough, but "Amazing Grace" has always been more than just a pretty tune; the best renditions have lifted the spirit with hope and joy. And their reading of Cedar Walton's "Holy Land" has all the right notes but none of the grit and grease that is meant to elevate it into a state which surpasses simple experience.
That's not to say Come Sunday: Songs of Spirituality is a complete failure. As a graceful record of some fine material with a singular concept, it works just fine. But if you're looking for material that truly surpasses the corporeal into the realm of true universality, you would be better off checking out Charlie Haden and Hank Jones' sublime Steal Away (Verve, '94) or Alice Coltrane's recent Translinear Light (Impulse! '04).
Visit P.J. Perry on the web.
Personnel: Doug Riley (piano, B3 organ), P.J. Perry (saxophone)