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Issue 1084

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Review

Kirk Whalum: The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter IV (Rendevous)

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UK release date 23.03.2015

After a six-year wait, âThe Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter IV,â is here with a two-disc, 19-song CD (and a feature-length DVD) as the latest in the award-winning series, which launched with âThe Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter I,â in 1998.

It has transformed the concept of sharing the âgospel truthâ through instrumental music. Each of the subsequent releases has ascended the Jazz and Gospel charts, garnering critical acclaim and award nominations. âItâs What I Doâ from GATJ III taking home the Grammy for âBest Gospel Song,â in 2011.

Recorded live at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, âThe Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter IV,â serves up more of a âgoodâ thing,â but not just âmore of the same.â From the tender strains of âJust As I Am,â inviting participation, this classic song sung at so many altar calls and the end of countless crusades, is switched-up to instead open the evening.

It also cues the listener to expect the unexpected, such as unlikely songs re-purposed to musically illustrate the gospel message in both oblique and direct ways. Plus Kirk Whalumâs insightful narrative both in concert and post-production in the DVD version, enriches the whole experience with an up-close and personal look at the heart of the artist and his art.

Whalum once again shares the stage with members of his gifted family, including brother Kevin (vocals) and nephews Kenneth III (saxophones) and Kortland (vocals). Adding sheen and sonic depth, his cohorts in jazz supergroup BWB (both solo artists in their own right), Rick Braun (trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone) and Norman Brown (guitars, vocals) join an eminent ensemble comprising legendary percussionist âDocâ Gibbs, renowned bassist Gerald Veasely, drummer Marcus âStixâ Finnie, rising vocal star (and Stevie Wonder protégé) Sheléa, as well as returning co-producer John Stoddart - who lends his eloquent and soulful keys and vocals to the mix.

âGATJ IV,â is tribute album in a uniquely gospel-centric way. Honored here are heads of state (Mandela and Obama), departed and greatly respected and loved artists (George Duke, Wayman Tisdale, and John Coltrane), alongside mothers (Kirkâs⦠the Virgin Mary, and yours if you like) and a homeless woman Whalum came to call friend (âNannette.â) Whalumâs music and perspective is informed by the unconventional and expansive. Says Whalum, âOne of the things on my mind was carving a deeper niche in the improvisation: longer, more in-depth solos, a little bit more avant garde.

âMadiba,â is Kirkâs elegant, polyrhythmic South African seasoned tribute to Nelson Mandela, and on âTriage,â an instrumental editorial-on-and-embodiment-of the mash-up of life and death in the worldâmelodic, dissonant, chaotic and composed, itâs an improvisational tour de force. Undoubtedly his signature melodic and soulful fusion drawing from jazz idiom across generations and genresâcontemporary jazz to Dixieland, Bebop, Big Band and beyondâas well as a strong identification with r&b, blues, world music, rock, Latin and pop hasnât changed, but the balance has indisputably shifted.

Kirkâs tribute to Coltrane, âUn Amor Supremoââ an original with a Cubano/Santana/Afro-Caribbean vibe and Doc Gibbs strongly featuredâ spotlights Traneâs passionate artistry, in the circling extended solos and Whalumâs abandoned yet precision performance. In the mix of remembrance and tribute, sorrow and reflection, improvisation and exploration, there is plenty of celebration, faith, delight and humor. Going deeper doesnât mean darker! âCainât Stay Blueâ is an infectious mood elevator, with a vocal and musical hook.

The persistent hope, patience and resolve not to give up that captured the essence of the Civil Rights Movement and a nation in 1964, on Curtis Mayfieldâs âKeep On Pushingâ is a GATJ IV highlight. Kirk makes his solo debut on flute on the track âThis is the Day.â And that is not only the first here. Sadly, it is the first GATJ without the inimitable keys of jazz giant George Duke. Kirk Whalum composed and takes the vocal lead on an evocative tribute and heartfelt requiem to his dear friend and fellow artist, titled âThere,â derived from Dukeâs favorite saying âWe Were There.â On the vocal side, Kirkâs brother Kevinâs laidback under-stated cool retools Paul and Linda McCartneyâs âLet âEm Inââ (complete with an intricate scat.) Sheléa brings her irresistible clarity, warmth, subtlety and soul to the Foo Fightersâ mega-hit âMy Hero,â the slave era Negro spiritual, âSometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,â and âI See You.â

This a warm, joyous affair, delivered with love by every last man (and woman) â not to mention monster talent by an ensemble of sparkling and gifted musicians. Even if you are a non believer and have an allergic reaction to religion, give it a go to experience a mega soulful jazz album no matter the topic or theme, from one of the worldâs best sax players at the very top of his game, with an all-star supporting cast.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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