There is a long tradition of using traditional African-American spirituals as a basis for jazz explorations, but that is rarely done in one session with the breadth of approaches James Weidman uses on Spiritual Impressions. From the loping reggae beat on "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" to the New Orleans rumba rhythm on "No Hiding Place," he and his excellent band always find a way to bring something new to these old songs.
The aforementioned "No Hiding Place" works up a wild party groove spurred on by Weidman's melodica and Anthony Nelson 's whirling tenor sax. In contrast "Nobody Knows" is a gentle ballad that has Nelson's fluid bass clarinet mixing with the easy elegance of Weidman's piano as Ruth Naomi Floyd's rich voice glides over all. "You Hear The Lamb A Cryin'" starts with wordless voice and flute over a somber, steady drum and bass beat. Then as Floyd begins singing the lyrics, the tempo slightly picks up and the flute begins to stretch out as the entire band shifts into a swinging mood.
The normally somber "Deep River" is played with a light, childlike touch that brings Nelson's flute back into the spotlight while "Wade In The Water" becomes a gritty piece of R & B carried by soprano sax and organ. "Joshua" throws some bubbling hip hop figures into the mix and Weidman's arrangement of "Let My People Go" recalls McCoy Tyner's 70s' music with its urgent African-flavored rhythm and elaborate, crashing piano chords. "African Spirals" is Weidman's one original composition, an instrumental that features a long, twisting piano solo, brawny, slow-boiling tenor sax and a relentless tribal rhythm laid down by Harvie S and Vince Ector.
All the elements of this music are outstanding, S and Ector's sympathetic rhythm flow, Nelson's bravura blasts on his various reeds, Weidman's subtly powerful and eloquent piano, and most especially Ruth Naomi Floyd's majestic voice which puts these old hymns over with quietly emotional conviction.
This is a jazz-gospel mix that tackles the spiritual genre in all sorts of ways, from gentle to funky and from celebratory to solemn. It's a really joyous and beautiful effort.
Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel; Deep River; No Hiding Place; Prelude To Freedom (Troubled
Waters); Wade In The Water; Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen; Joshua Fit The Battle Of
Jericho; You Hear The Lamb A Cryin'; African Spirals; Let My People Go; Walk Together, Children.
James Weidman: piano, organ, melodica; Ruth Naomi Floyd: voice; Anthony Nelson: tenor,
baritone & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet & flute; Harvie S: acoustic & electric bass; Vince