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True crossover artists have the uncanny ability to bring together the audiences of often very different musical tastes and backgrounds together to learn, appreciate and relish in themselves, each other and the experience itself. Whalum's The Gospel According to Jazz is one such experience. The superb sax man combines with an all star cast to take Jazz back home to church. The ultra versatile Whalum excels yet again combining the best of two worlds as he and friends skillfully work the changes, weaving concise original ideas with quotes from the masters. Of particular pleasure is Whalum's quote from Coltrane's "Giant Steps" to set up the call and response portion of "In the All the Earth". Far too often, Gospel Jazz projects wind up too one sided, heavy on the Gospel light on the Jazz or vise versa to the disappointment of both audiences. Whalum's ingenious use of traditional choral vocals to provide a foundation for non melodically contrived improvisation without losing those who would normally dismiss other forms of improvisation as "noise", allows many for the first time to experience jazz as a vehicle and not an end in itself. Paul Jackson Jr., lays down his always excellent string work shining on "Blessed Assurance" with hints of both his extensive classical and rhythm guitar prowess. The gem of the project is the wonderful "Wade in the Water", at 12 minutes plus it will never see radio play but the extended solo work is amazing. Brother, Kevin lays the foundation with a convincing vocal and something too seldom heard from modern jazz vocalist, creative, sincere, and emotional scatting. George Duke remains impeccable while Mike Manson and J.D. Blair put on a clinic on "unintrusive but 'cha' know we're funky" pocket work followed by a shake your head and smile bass solo. Whalum hints at the true extent of his awesome chops on the Brazilian flavored "With All My Might" note the Getz quote on the second chorus of his solo. The traditional classic "Lord I Want To Be A Christian" is hauntingly beautiful, rendered as an emotional ballad, whispered as a prayer to heaven. Here Tyrone Dickerson contrasts Whalum, Duke, and Jackson JR's simply stated melodies with a breathtaking expansive string arrangement that crescendos with such grace and power as to leave no doubt as to what it is meant to represent. Other tunes include "Where He Leads Me", "The Name", and "What The Lord Means to Me", all show case the group's awesome chops without going so far a to alienate the uninitiated, yet a seasoned ear will be more than impressed. In a world of division where Jazz is a dirty word in some circles and so called purist dismiss all but the most traditional forms of bebop in others, there are far too few who can bring them all together. Backed by a group of capable deacons, reverend Whalum succeeds nicely and preaches convincingly, reminiscent of the late Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons and the great Arnette Cobb. And thankfully, like all those men, fluently speaks the Jazz language as a means of communicating a message, and as messages go... there aren't much better.
Track Listing: 1.What the Lord Means to Me 2. In All the Earth 3. Blessed Assurance 4. The Name 5. Wade in the Water 6. All My Might 7. Where He Leads Me 8. Lord I Want to be a Christian 9. Where He Leads Me (Reprise)
Personnel: Saxophones: Kirk Whalum Keyboards; George Duke Elec.& Acuostic Guitars; Paul Jackson Jr. Drums; JD Blair Upright& Elec. Bass; Mike Manson Programming: Tyrone dickerson Organ: Jerry Peters Lead Vocals: Kevin Whalum Percussion: Eric Darken Engineer Steve Jones