Hawes recorded The Sermon a few days before he was sent to prison for five years on drug charges. The session remained imprisoned for much longer, only receiving a brief release after Hawes’ death. Finally out on CD, The Sermon, as one might expect, is an album of spirituals and church hymns given the jazz treatment. This concept has been tried before, but many of these projects are too solemn and reverent, or feature less jazz than gospel. Hawes wisely focuses on improvisation and swing, fashioning versions of these well-known songs that are more likely to make you snap your fingers than put you in a state of grace. Hawes varies the tempo and presentation of each song to sustain interest and both Vinnegar and Levey seem content to provide understated support. The pianist, a West Coast veteran, has the lightly swinging style favored by Dave Brubeck and Vince Guaraldi and will not disappoint fans of either of the two. Jazz has always had deep ties with the music of the church; few have exploited this relationship as well as Hawes.
Down By The Riverside; Just A Closer Walk With Thee; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen; When The Roll Is Called Way Up Yonder; Go Down Moses; Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho; Blues N/C (Total Time: 67:41).
Hampton Hawes: Piano; Leroy Vinnegar: Bass; Stan Levey: Drums.
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