JazzSpirit Volume 1 and Volume 2

Jerry D'Souza By

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The Lord blesses many. Among them is Willie Pickens, now a spry 75, who brings vitality and spirit to this collection of sacred hymns.

Pickens, a deacon at the Hyde Park Union Church on Chicago's South Side, has been musically active with a Christmas show that turned into an annual event in 1995. In 2004 Lilly Endowment offered to sponsor a series of sacred concerts. So came about another series of free concerts which in turn begot these recordings.

Willie Pickens
Jazz Spirit, Volume 1

Pickens shows a wide palette in his calling. The music has the necessary gospel and spiritual tunes but there are hymns from the European canon also. To make it all the more meaningful, Pickens put together musicians that had an affinity for each other. What results is a sincere, heartfelt and stirring experience.

Pickens has a rich harmonic approach which he embellishes with clustered runs and striking chords. There is plenty of colour, hues deep and potent. He also has that touch which goes gently down into the soil of a composition and draws on its beauty as he does on the solo outing "Here I Am Lord . And then he has Ari Brown on tenor sax who joins him, Marlene Rosenberg and Kobie Watkins on "Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love . The sax creates an ethereal air on the Ghanian melody and then delves into a deep groove, a jaunty happy journey that expounds on the melody and lets Pickens grab on with a light, flexing touch. A surprising, and most delightful, turn comes when Brown builds an edifice that lets loose a blazing salvo of free idioms. The Latin melody of "Piedad exults on the alto sax of Pat Mallinger who bops around a bit complemented to a nicety by Robert Shy whose drumming says a lot in its overall sparse ambit, a thread that Pickens nails with a scintillating clutch of notes .

Willie Pickens
Jazz Spirit, Volume 2

Pickens plays a duet on each of the records with his daughter Bethany. Starting out with a funky percussive attack, "Wade In The Water gives the art of the duo meaning, first as the melody is worked in consonance and later when the realm of leader changes and chords and melody move between the two. If the soul needs to be stirred in a different, but nevertheless rousing way, the British tune "O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High does just that. Pickens comes up with some fine tunes in the net he casts across the ocean. One of the best is the Welsh "Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service , given a reverential but deeply felt acknowledgment by Brown with Pickens opening up in joyous abandon.

Jazz Spirit, Volume 1

Personnel: Willie Pickens: piano; Marlene Rosenberg, Rob Amster, Larry Gray: bass; Kobie Watkins, Robert Shy: drums; Ari Brown: tenor saxophone; Pat Mallinger: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Tito Carrillo: flugelhorn; Bethany Pickens: piano.

Tracks: Let Us Break Bread Together; Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love; Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive; A Mighty Fortress; Piedad; Doxology; O My Soul Bless Your Redeemer; Here I Am Lord; Jesus Loves Me; My God is So High.

Jazz Spirit, Volume 2

Personnel: Willie Pickens: piano; Marlene Rosenberg, Rob Amster, Larry Gray: bass; Kobie Watkins, Robert Shy: drums; Ari Brown: tenor saxophone; Pat Mallinger: alto saxophone; Tito Carrillo: trumpet, flugelhorn; Bethany Pickens: piano.

Tracks: Fairest Lord Jesus; O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High; Down by the Riverside; O Lord You Are My God and King; We Are Marching in the Light of God; Wade in the Water; God of Grace and God of Glory; When Peace Like a River; Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service; My God is So High.

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