Along with her sidework with instrumentalists Charles Fambrough, Uri Caine and other jazzmen of note, composer/vocalist Ruth Naomi Floyd gives voice to her own muse through her own label, Contour Records. Her fifth release continues her longstanding collaboration with pianist James Weidman, known for his accompaniment for vocalists Abbey Lincoln and Cassandra Wilson. It also features James Newton on flute, saxophonist Gary Thomas, and rhythm section aces Reggie Washington (bass) and Ralph Peterson (drums).
Root to the Fruit endeavors to illuminate the intersection between jazz and traditional and contemporary African American Christian faith. There's a surprising amount of musical precedent for this ambition, and Floyd's eclectic program takes full advantage of it. She renders in gospel, jazz and blues hues such traditional spirituals as "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child and "Oh, Freedom, where she pins her deeply felt vocal onto a colorful tapestry of expressively yet exploratory ensemble blowing"free jazz. Weidman's horn arrangement for "God is My Shepherd (from Antonin Dvorak's Biblical Songs, Opus 99, 1894) echoes of Ellington while his piano accompaniment raises the pensive specter of Bill Evans.
Floyd polishes the lyrics and music of Randy Weston's "Where into a sacrificial moan drawn out from the blues, then lightly seasoned with the funk of this earth. She draws an "Act of Contrition from Mary Lou Williams' 1972 release Mary Lou's Mass, a poignant slice of liturgy where Weidman testifies on church organ instead of piano to preach a soulful sermon from mount Jimmy Smith.
What follows an "Act of Contrition ? Doctrinally as well as sequentially, it's "Mercy. The album's nine-minute centerpiece turns out to be serious jazz, an exploration carved out hard and strong by Thomas' tenor sax into the granite foundation hammered down by Weidman's double-fisted piano.
Floyd's annotations cite the scriptural inspiration/reference for each song. The release further includes as a separate set of liner notes the theological commentary Root to the Fruit: A Nexus of Jazz and Theology by pastor, author and lecturer Rev. Dr. John Nunes, a contributing scholar to Modern Reformation magazine and a member of the American Academy of Religion.
No Hiding Place; Mere Breath; Oh, Freedom; God is My Shepherd; Where?; Dagarth
Ruth Naomi Floyd: vocals; James Weidman: piano, organ, melodica; James Newton: flute; Gary Thomas: tenor saxophone; Monica McIntyre: cello; Matthew Parrish, Tyrone Brown: acoustic bass; Ron Howerton: percussion; Reggie Washington: electric bass; Ralph Peterson, Mark Prince: drums.
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