All forms of jazz are a means of artistic personalization, but gospel jazz may be the ultimate form of individualized musical expression for those who believe. It serves as an aural representation of the individual communing with a higher power, and giving thanks. A broad yet set repertoire often binds gospel jazz projects and artists together, but no two people approach this style of music in the same manner. Pianist Hank Jones favored quiet musings on the divine while others, like pianist Cyrus Chestnut, often prefer a more flamboyant and chops-driven method of performance. This form of music is as personal as faith and belief itself, and pianist Sharp Radway has an absolute understanding of this fact.
Hymns And Things serves as Radway's leader debut, but it's been a long time coming. Actually, he imagined such a project before he even had the technical wherewithal to put it together. Radway's musically formative years included time playing drums in church and, when he made the move to piano, it took a while to get things off the ground. He had a strong desire to start a "gospel jazz band," but he wasn't ready at that point. Radway's three-chord vocabulary wouldn't cut it, and he knew it, but he also had a clear understanding that he lacked understanding, and the drive to buckle down and work; it clearly paid off.
Now, Radway has the goods and his vision is finally a reality. The ten songs featured on Hymns and Things give the pianist a chance to express himself in solo, trio and quintet settings. The album's subtitle, (Introspection And Reflection), makes it abundantly clear that Radway prefers a mellower form of gospel jazz, but it's a bit misleading; this isn't a sleepy sojourn into the heavens. His tropically infused trio take on "Jesus, Keep me Near The Cross," driven by McClenty Hunter Jr.'s peppy drumming, has energy to spare, and "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" is bright as can be. A quintet take on "Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us," featuring guest saxophonists Greg Tardy and James Spaulding, is a sunny swing tune bursting with positive energy, while "My Faith Looks Up To Thee" goes from a placid place to pianist Ahmad Jamal's territory, with Hunter's Vernel Fournier-esque drumming further cementing that connection.
The solo piano pieces prove to be the place where "introspection and reflection" come into focus. Radway beautifully interprets a well-known "Danny Boy" precursor ("He Looked Beyond My Faults") and elsewhere looks within himself to find the right musical message ("Sweet Hour Of Prayer"). Tender sentiments are balanced out by resolute thoughts and contemplative moments occasionally encounter resounding ideals as Radway fully invests himself in this music.
Hymns And Things has all the elements of a great jazz record: strong artistic vision, great playing and group chemistry, all coming into play on this pleasing debut.
Sweet Hour of Prayer; Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us; My Faith Looks Up to Thee; He Looked Beyond My Faults; Leaning on Everlasting Arms; Thank You, Lord; Your Decrees; His Eye Is On the Sparrow; Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross; My Tribute (To God the Glory).
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