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Metropolitan Gospel Big Band at Restoration Temple

Ernest Barteldes By

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Metropolitan Gospel Big Band
Temple of Restoration
October 18, 2014
Brooklyn, NY

On the CD release event for their debut album Leaning On The Everlasting Arms (Self-Produced, 2014), the sixteen-piece band led by tenor saxophonist Duke Guillaume kicked off the set with George Bennard's classic hymn "The Old Rugged Cross," played with a blues-inflected, mid-tempo feel. The bandleader was the first to take a solo, improvising fluently with long notes. The ensemble did not stretch the tune a lot and quickly moved on to Ralph Carmichael's "He's Everything to Me." Guillaume explained that this song was one he had learned as a young performer during services and that ultimately motivated him to start his ensemble after coming across an arrangement written for a big band—which was the one used.

Among the best moments of the set came when Sterling Overshown began the traditional hymn "Wade in The Water" with a stirring Hammond B-3 introduction followed by the ensemble, which played with a funk-inspired feel. The tune's simple structure was ideal for the musicians to let loose, and there were a number of solos. Ted Cruz was particularly creative, playing a flurry of well-placed notes around the melody, and Don McKenzie II contributed his only solo of the set, giving the song a rock-and-roll feel. The band was augmented by a string quartet halfway through the set, for "Because He Lives," a lively, up-tempo song in which Guillaume played the main melody and all the solos.

The finest parts of the set, however, were the more improvised ones. For instance, the bandleader apparently changed his mind about the set list and threw in "This Little Light of Mine," and the group played it with a stomping beat in the tradition of New Orleans marching bands, featuring an extended solo from trombonist Stafford Hunter, who used a lot of "growls" during his improvised moments. The closing number, "I'm So Glad Jesus Looked at Me," followed the same tradition, and everyone (including those on the bandstand) was taken by surprise when violinist Jeff Young unexpectedly took a solo, playing fast, fiddle-like notes around the melody.

It was a relatively short (about one hour) but highly enjoyable set—the band was well-rehearsed and clearly have great dynamics together.
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