"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song. And he has become my salvation." These words, taken from Isaiah 12:2, are quoted on the inside jacket of trumpeter John Raymond's Strength & Song and serve as the inspiration for its title, as well as the name of Raymond's record label.
Two of the project's tracks reference religion in different ways. Raymond's arrangement of the popular hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is taken at a languid pace. Over a gently swaying foundation, his muted horn interprets the melody in a wistful manner; with the exception of a handful of notes near the end, he doesn't offer any improvisation. As beautiful as any love song, the track is brief, simple, and timeless. "Psalm 37: Anthem" is comprised of a smart, medium tempo, hard bop theme in 5/4 time, followed by a spoken dialogue between Raymond and Zac Martin. They discuss the intersection of Raymond's faith and his music, as well as offering interpretations of the meaning of Psalm 37.
On purely musical terms Raymond shows a great deal of promise. Virtually every time he plays, the trumpeter elevates the music in ways that never sound glib or strained. He gets a lovely, full sound out of the horn and executes clearly defined melodic pathways instead of long, convoluted passages. The steady, patient course of his improvisations is often in stark contrast to the jittery, effusive accompaniment of the rhythm section.
The best of Raymond's compositions evince a connection to his traits as an improviser as well as searching for new and unusual sounds. The pensive "Onward" gently but firmly moves forward by means of a shifting, odd meter foundation, and a measured treatment of the melody by Raymond and guitarist Gilad Hekselman. "Ebeneezer" deftly unites a ballad-like theme and a brisk line in an odd meter at a faster tempo. As the composition continues for over three minutes before the solos commence, Raymond keeps things fresh by giving pianist Javier Santiago some room to maneuver, adding a brief secondary theme, and altering dynamics.
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