It's no secret that many roots of the jazz tree burrow deep into the church. There's more than a little gospel influence in the style of innumerable jazz artists, most noticeably in the work of pianists such as, for example, Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett. With drummers, perhaps, such traces are harder to discern, but in the case of the remarkable Uros Markovic, there is no mistaking his devotion to the (big G) Gospel. Markovic both serves with Christian missions on the streets of New York City and leads the Gospel Jazz Trio, whose excellent new record, Jesus Saves
, should lead many to convert, at least, to his kind of jazz, if not to the Lord.
Markovic is a superb drummer, polyrythmically exciting but controlled and rock solid. He could hardly have chosen better compatriots for the Gospel Jazz Trio: pianist Eric Lewis and bassist Reginald Veal, both alumni of the Wynton Marsalis groups, are completely in tune with Markovic, and the former contributes a pair of strong tunes suffused with the good news. The remainder of the album is made up of traditional gospel songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Holy Holy Holy," all completely convincing and enjoyable as pure jazz regardless of the religious overtones.
On "Wade in the Water," Markovic's deployment of constantly shifting rhythms over Lewis's propulsive clusters and runs recalls nothing more than Coltrane's classic quartet with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones. Veal's bass solo on "Swing Low" is a highlight, bouncy and bluesy, while his ostinato pulse really drives the Lewis-penned title track, a spacious and sneakily funky tune. The album climaxes with an ecstatic reading of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," which builds over nine minutes from a quiet piano run-through to crashing, slightly "out" trajectories before coming back to earth.
If the testimony of several newly converted Christians in the liner notes are any indication, Markovic's work with the Bowery Mission must be as persuasive as his music. Thankfully, Jesus Saves is supremely ecumenical: it speaks a musical language that is universal, and should touch believer and non-believer alike. Jazz listeners can enjoy Markovic's swinging stick-work and see where the Spirit moves them.
Personnel: Eric Lewis: Piano; Reginald Veal: Bass; Uros Markovic: Drums.