310

Jazz Vespers Debuts at Abyssinian Baptist Church

By

Sign in to view read count
Jazz at Abyssinain: A Swinging Pre-Holiday Vesper
Abyssinian Baptist Church
New York, New York
November 23, 2008

From the thoughtful, ruminative probing of Cyrus Chestnut to the massive choir-like outpourings of an ensemble led by pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs, Jazz at Abyssinian: A Swinging Pre-Holiday Vesper provided a cornucopia of sound that consistently had the Harlem crowd recently at Abyssinian Baptist Church on its feet with wild applause.



Alto saxophonist Brandon Primus fronted a makeshift band with more than a passing interest in blending popular music with jazz nuances, and the crossover effect was fascinatingly invoked with the group's version of Donny Hathaway 's "This Christmas" and the traditional carol "What Child Is This?" But Primus displayed his full control of the horn during his solo on "Silent Night," and with utilization of circular breathing that was in no way a gimmick.



Nor was there anything gimmicky about the treatment of tunes by vocalists Suzanne Woodard and Eunice Newkirk, both with intimate ties to the legendary, 200-year-old church. Backed by a rhythm section with Sharpe Radway on piano, Stanley Banks on bass; and Phil Young on drums, the singers were as vibrant and bouncy with their blues as they were reflective and introspective on their ballads.



Woodard's plea on "Make Someone Happy" was almost visceral, and Newkirk made hundreds of listeners more than cheerful and ready to let the good times roll when she rocked the Lord's place with her gut- bucket strut while confessin' that she'd "rather drink muddy water and sleep in a hollow log."

Chestnut's moments at the keyboard were a distillation of famous styles, from Art Tatum to James P. Johnson to Errol Garner. On an unnamed blues number, he began with a slow ostinato beat that gradually evolved into a stride format to end with a flourish of notes with all the earmarks of ragtime giant Scott Joplin. His rendition of the Black National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was a study in lovely tonality with a mixture of colorful chord variations.



The quiet, contemplative mood Chestnut established in the sanctuary was soon replaced by a series of rousing tunes from Gumbs' ensemble, including saxophonist Roger Byam, bassist Marcus McLaurine, drummer Payton Crossley, and percussionist Gary Fritz. Their collective thunder filled every belfry and apse in the church during Gumbs' composition "Sikhulu Shange," dedicated to the long-term businessman who was recently evicted from his location on 125th Street.

Always a politically-conscious musician, Gumbs' tune had a pounding, repetitive feeling that was reminiscent of the township music of South Africa, a song he also dedicated to the recently departed Miriam Makeba. All Byam needed upfront with him was Hugh Masekela's trumpet for the mbaqanga beat to have been complete. Vocalist "M"—and an "m" or two more would be appropriate—gave the momentum more oomph as she had done earlier on "It Had To Be You."

What resulted on this afternoon was a kind of community sing with a simple melody resounding and echoing throughout the church, and it gave credence to Rev. Calvin Butts' suggestion that jazz was really a misconstrued "Jah" with biblical references. With guidance and direction from Ron West, Stephen Johnson, and the emceeing of Sheila Anderson of WBGO-FM, the vespers at Abyssinian made a glorious debut. Already, according to Primus, plans are underway for a February concert, which will give the concept more reach and stability.

Post a comment

Tags

More

Interview with Alternative Guitar Summit 2021
Interview with Steve Sandberg Trio at Soapbox Gallery
Interview with Tessa Souter Trio at Soapbox Gallery
Interview with Nicole Glover Trio at Smalls Jazz Club
Interview with Peter Zak Quartet at Smalls Jazz Club
Interview with Norwegian Digital Jazz Festival 2020, Part 3
Interview with The Bad Plus at Bijou Theatre

Popular

Read Tony Bennett: A Hero's Journey in Authenticity
Beauty, Love and Justice: Living A Coltranian Life
Tony Bennett: A Hero's Journey in Authenticity
Read Steve Reich: Humans Love to See Other Humans Play Music
Read Top Jazz-Rock Fusion Recordings
Read Dean Brown: Global Fusion on Acid
Read Instrumental Duos
Building a Jazz Library
Instrumental Duos

All About Jazz needs your support

Donate
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.