Sermonette is the third and most recent recording by the Dallas Christian Jazz Band, one of several groups that use traditional hymns and other sacred music as the basis for contemporary big-band jazz. Those who wrote the music would no doubt be surprised to hear how readily it lends itself to a more modern format. While some or even all of the melodies may be familiar to regular church-goers, it's safe to assume that few have ever heard them played quite this way before.
Among those who redesign sacred music for a big band format, the most talented, in my view, is trombonist Chris McDonald, and the DCJB performs three of his arrangements (including the dynamic "I'll Fly Away ) with two each by Camp Kirkland and the eminent Ralph Carmichael. Three charts were written especially for the band, two by Norman Grant ("Sermonette and "Glory Hallelujah, a.k.a. "Battle Hymn of the Republic ), the other by Steve Hall ("Via Dolorosa ). Dean Sorensen arranged "Just a Closer Walk, Clyde Hunt "Amazing Grace, Dale Burke "When We All Get to Heaven.
While most of the readings are decidedly modern, "Glory Hallelujah uses a Dixieland framework to underscore its cheerful theme, eliciting animated solos from tenor saxophonist Don Daniel, trumpeter Bob Penick, trombonist David Kelley, clarinetist David Pittman and tubaist Randy Morrison. Daniel, who also solos on "Amazing Grace and McDonald's soulful treatment of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, doubles as vocalist on "Gonna Go Back and "Sermonette, faring much better on the former (on "Sermonette he seems to be singing in a lower key than everyone else). There's one other vocal, by personable Breggett Rideau on another of McDonald's charts, the aptly named "He Keeps Me Singing.
Eight of the selections on Sermonette were recorded in 2003, the others in 2001, with a few personnel changes on the latter session. Trumpeter Tommy Loy, a charter member of the DCJB, passed away in October '02 and was replaced by Penick; tenor saxophonist David Oakley supplanted Mario Garza; Grant was added on piano, with Diane Lundy moving to synthesizer, and drummer Rusty Averitt succeeded Steve Hall with no loss of potency in the rhythm section (bassist Steve Webb is a standout on both sessions).
Even though opinions may vary about the propriety of linking sacred music to big-band jazz, there's no denying that the DCJB entrusts its heart and soul to the enterprise and that the result of its effort is never less than impressive and inspiring.
Track Listing: Just a Closer Walk; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty; I
Personnel: David Kelley, director, trombone; Vaughn Sinclair, Mike Magers, Skip Parker, David Speed, Art Drescher, Bob Penick, Tommy Loy, trumpet; David Pittman, alto sax, clarinet, flute; Mark McKenzie, alto sax; Don Daniel, tenor sax, vocals; David Oakley, Mario Garza, tenor sax; Lynn Denson, baritone sax; Tanya Speed, flute; Mark Robnett, Tom Fletcher, Wes Bolton, trombone; Randy Morrison, bass trombone, tuba; Diane Lundy, piano, synthesizer; Norman Grant, piano; Dave Stephens, guitar; Steve Webb, bass; Rusty Averitt, Steve Hall, drums; Breggett Rideau, guest vocalist.