Jazz has always had a close tie to religion, from its roots in gospel music and spirituals to the divine musical quests of Coltrane and the Sacred Concerts of Ellington. However, few artists have mined the hymnal directly for source material, and fewer still have then recorded albums that have reflection and meditation as their key goal.
Bradley Sowash has dedicated a large part of his career to playing this music in a jazz context. For the Beauty of the Earth is the third in a series of solo piano readings of religious music, many of which, like "Doxology"? and "This Little Light of Mine"?, will be familiar even to casual churchgoers. Sowash doesn't wander too far off from the melody of any of these tunes, but this is as it should behe isn't using this music as a jumping off point, but rather a chamber filled with endless new ideas. Triumphant hymns become introspective washes with floating chords and stolid, reverent songs of praise get a kick of stride. He reworks the melodies slightly, adding new melodic ideas to these old hymns, played with a lovely, crystalline texture reminiscent of George Winston with a little more swing.
As wonderful as it is, this recording would sound out of place as background music at a dinner party. Instead, this is a Sunday morning CD, much more welcome with a cup of coffee than a glass of wine. Sowash designs his music to be part of the religious fabric, and in the end whether or not you like this recording depends on your interest in music with this in mind. He intends his playing to be inwardly fulfilling for himself as well as spiritually rewarding for the listener, but at the very least he accomplishes what many jazz musicians sets out to do: take familiar songs and rework them into a pleasant listening experience.
Track Listing: 1. Glory, Glory Hallelujah 2. Doxology 3. For the Beauty of the Earth 4. Shall We Gather By the River 5. Standin' In the Need of Prayer 6. Just As I Am/Sanctus 7. By and By 8. This Little Light of Mine 9. Go Down Moses 10. The Ash Grove 11. Take It On Faith 12. America 13. Steps To the Soul 14. Amazing Grace.