New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: gospel music

A Raucous, Redemptive Return For Gospel Wildman Rev. Vince Anderson at Union Pool

On Monday night Union Pool was packed with an energetic, characteristically diverse New York crowd who’d come out to dance to Rev. Vince Anderson’s distinctive, unhinged blend of oldschool gospel, funk and what could be called psychedelic soul. “How many of you are seeing live music for the first time since last year?” the wildman pianist asked them.

Only about half a dozen people raised their hands. Either this was a shy crowd, or New York is in a warp-speed operation to get back to normal. Obviously, we have to brace ourselves for the toxic schemes the lockdowners are cooking up in the lab for when cold and flu season gets here. But this show seemed to be a very good omen for the rest of the summer, at the very least.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night residency with the Love Choir, his rotating cast of some of the funkiest players around, ran almost totally uninterrupted from the summer of 2008 until the lockdown. Before then, there was a long run at Black Betty, and a couple of residencies at Pete’s. And in between, at Swift’s in the Village, and the dreaded Pianos, with brief stops at the Williamsburg Publik House and the Metropolitan. All that takes us back to around the turn of the century and Anderson’s legendary, marathon performances at the old Stinger club on Grand Street.

These days the show starts a little earlier, at nine sharp, and the party doesn’t go all the way until closing time. Anderson has had formidable chops for years,, but it was obvious from this one that he’d spent plenty of time at the keys during the lockdown. He opened the show quietly and then slowly picked up the pace until he’d raised the old hymn Precious Lord, Take My Hand to the rafters. He had his core players with him: baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson, trombonist Dave “Smoota” Smith, guitarist Jaleel Bunton and drummer Chad Taylor along with a bassist who was chilling on the back in a chair when the show started but quickly rose up to fuel the slinky groove.

Like so many other performers, Anderson had turned to social media when live music was criminalized, and one song that had grabbed him during the lockdown was Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again, No More. He did that one after Fallen From the Pray, an anthem for apostates that sounded a lot like Dr. John – minus the New Orleans accent – this time out. Anderson was especially on fire for Get Out of My Way, the careening minor-key gospel anthem he’s used to open innumerable shows, finally bringing it down to a rapt series of solar-flare chords before the band stampeded out.

Meanwhile, the dancers moved further and further toward the stage as the crowd grew. In between songs, Anderson did a wry Q&A with the audience, revealed that it was edibles that got him through the lockdown, and put on a wildly applauded demo of yoga for people with a little junk in the trunk.

Then midway through Come to the River, an undulating midtempo number, he got serious: after everything we’ve been subjected to over the past sixteen months, this is our chance to lose everything that doesn’t work and start over, he reminded. And then baptized himself with a pint glass of water, shook it off into the crowd and the party started up again with a high-voltage singalong of This Little Light of Mine. Henderson channeled deep blues, Smith right alongside her while Bunton made it clear that Anderson wasn’t the only one onstage who’d been shedding these songs during the lockdown. Taylor is one of the most sought-after drummers in jazz, but luckily for Anderson he seems to have Mondays off.

Anderson’s weekly Monday night Union Pool residency continues on July 26 at 9

Melodic, Inventive Gospel-Inspired Jazz From Jordan Pettay

Saxophonist Jordan Pettay’s musical background draws equally on jazz and contemporary gospel. Her debut album First Fruit – streaming at her music page – blends original, warmly melodic original jazz tunes with  explorations of classic gospel themes. Pettay’s alto work often has a soprano sound, as she tends to favor the upper registers, but with a mistier tone. She’s a very purposeful player, and that focus extends to the band here: Christian Sands on piano, Luke Sellick on bass, Jimmy Macbride on drums, Mat Jodrell on trumpet and Joe McDonough on trombone.

They open with Whatever Happens, a bright, modally tinged swing tune, trumpet rising from purposeful to ecstatic and back over Sands’ spare, chordal piano work, a terse bass pulse and grittily accented drum work. Alto, trombone and piano solos afterward share a vibe that’s both more reflective and lighthearted.

Pettay plays I Am Thine O Lord as a tender love ballad over spare piano and a lithe, loose-limbed rhythm that grows funkier as the energy rises. The album’s title track opens with punchy syncopation in contrast to Pettay’s warmly sailing lines; then the group swing the tune by the tail, fueled by Sands’ brisk wide-angle chords.

He supplies lingering Rhodes to a tropically-tinged, gently funky take of the Stylistics’ You Make Me Feel Brand New, with sax, trumpet and eventually trombone hanging close to the original vocal line the first time around before expanding and returning with triumphant harmonies.

Shifting between waltz time and a straight-up, slow swing, For Wayne – a Shorter homage – has thoughtful solos from Pettay and Sands over a vampy backdrop. She goes back to swinging classic 50s style postbop for Straight Street, Sands’ scrambles contrasting with the bandleader’s calmly crescendoing lines.

She closes the album with three gospel jazz numbers. I Exalt Thee has a slow, raptly restrained groove, crystalline sax and a thoughtful, spacious Sellick solo before Pettay finally reaches for the rafters with apt exhaltation. Sands opens I Surrender All with a low-key organ solo before Pettay enters and prowls around the church; the rubato ambience suggests that it’s time everybody started to feel brand new. Are You Washed in the Blood rises from a claplong clave to a more New Orleans-flavored shuffle, Pettay working terse variations over a sunny, amiably swinging backdrop.

A New Take on a Gospel Jazz Classic

Singer Trineice Robinson‘s new single Come Sunday, a rapt, absolutely mystical take of the Duke Ellington classic, is just out and streaming at Spotify. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut keeps the ambience intimate as Robinson really airs out her low register: does this woman have power, or what? Gospel choirs around the world will be lining up for her services when they hear this. A full-length album  is due out this August.

An Eclectically Catchy Big Band Album by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players

Does listening to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Players transform them from a seventeen-piece big band into a trio? One of the premises of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that some particles are so small that merely observing them changes their state. It’s an extension of the basic idea that some tools are too heavy for the job: you don’t use a hammer where just your thumb would do.

Ultimately, Heisenberg’s postulate challenges us to consider whether some things will always be essentially unknowable: a very Islamic concept, when you think about it. But you hardly need special powers of observation to enjoy this big band’s energy, and catchy themes, and pervasive sense of humor. Their album Gradient is streaming at Bandcamp. There’s a high-energy sax solo on almost every one of bandleader/conductor John Dorhauer’s compositions here, sometimes expected, sometimes not.

The opening number, Boombox, makes a momentary Mission Impossible theme out of the old surf rock hit Tequila, then hits a Weather Report style faux-soukous bubbliness for a bit before shifting toward a gospel groove beneath Matthew Beck’s joyous tenor sax.

The second track, Nevertheless She Persisted is a slow, slinky gospel tune, Stuart Seale’s tersely soulful organ ceding the spotlight to a low-key, burbling trombone solo from Chris Shuttleworth and a big massed crescendo from the brass. Subject/Verb/Object has clever, rhythmless variations on a circling, Ethiopian-tinged riff, in an Either/Orchestra vein; the polyrhythms that ensue as the piece comes together and then calms to an uneasy syncopation are a cool touch.

Four Sides of the Circle begins as a stately, mysterious, Indian-tinged theme for choir and piano, then chattering high reeds take centerstage as the song almost imperceptibly edges toward dusky, modal soul over a familiar Radiohead hook.

The East African tinges return, but more cheerily in Plasma, with its rhythmically tricky interweave of counterpoint. Mahler 3 Movement 1 is exactly that: a moody, jazzed-up classical theme that rises from rumors of war, to brassy King Crimson art-rock fueled by Chris Parsons’ burning guitar, to chipper, Gershwinesque swing over a quasi-reggae beat and then back.

The record winds up with the Basketball Suite. The first segment, Switch Everything is the band’s Dr. J (that’s a Grover Washington Jr. reference). Part two, Point Giannis is probably the slowest hoops theme ever written: Dan Parker’s hypnotic bassline brings to mind a classic Jah Wobble groove on PiL’s Metal Box album. The band take a turn back toward booding, pulsing Ethiopiques with Schedule Loss, Adam Roebuck’s incisive trumpet contrasting with James Baum’s suave, smoky baritone sax. It ends with the album’s warmly funky, vamping title track An entertaining achievement from an ensemble that also includies saxophonists Natalie Lande, Kelley Dorhauer and Dan Burke, trombonists Michael Nearpass, Josh Torrey and Dan Dicesare, trumpeters Jon Rarick and Emily Kuhn and drummer Jonathon Wenzel.

A Spot-On, Politically Fearless Live Album From the Impassioned Kemp Harris

Songwriter/pianist/activist/actor Kemp Harris has made a career out of absolutely smoking you with a lyric when you least expect it. His signature blend of politically smart oldschool soul, gospel and funk earned him a devoted following on the crunchy circuit. His gritty, expressive vocals hardly hint that he was in his late sixties the evening he played a dynamic, impassioned set on February 29, 2020 at the Bird in San Francisco with a pickup band. Less than two weeks later, concerts there were criminalized by California dictator Gavin Newsom in order to comply with a cabal of tech Nazis hell-bent on turning the entire world into an Orwellian surveillance state.

Harris’ show happened to be recorded, and has now been released as the album Live at the Bird SF. streaming at Bandcamp. It’s endemic of the glut of live recordings that no one at the time ever thought they’d release, which are now being dumped all over the web. If there’s any silver lining to this dismal era in human history, some of those shows turned out to be fantastic, and this one has its moments.

Harris opens the show as a duo with drummer Jim Lucchese. You’re going to want to start with the third track, Ruthie’s, a wise, aphoristic illustration of the utility of hanging away from idiots intent on starting a confrontation. “Escape from the lions, let the gladiator games begin,” Harris intones midway through.

He brings up bassist Jose Saravia and guitarist James Nash for a haphazardly swampy, simmering take of the political broadside Sweet Weeping Jesus. Saravia runs the hook from the Isley Bros.’ Money, underscoring the political context in the flood metaphors of Didn’t It Rain: “I saw the rainbow sign, no more water but the fire next time,” Harris avers.

The sarcasm, and the surprise punchline of Edenton are absolutely withering, Harris reflecting on his childhood in a supportive but insular North Carolina black community surrounded by sinister forces. He and the band hit a minimalist Bill Withers vamp that picks up with a funky syncopation in Invisible, with a hip hop-flavored interlude that looks back to an iconic Ralph Ellison novel.

After a medley of covers and a bit of a hopeful original in tribute to Martin Luther King, he turns in an emphatic, gospel-infused solo take of Willie Nelson’s Night Life, then brings the band back for a sly, funky, suggestive take of The Rain Came Down.

He gives Wiggle the same vibe with tinges of reggae and hip-hop, finds the inner hymn in Dylan’s I Shall Be Released, and closes the set with Swing Down Chariot, a funky remake of the gospel standard. The first of the encores is a late-period Buddy Guy-ish take of the blues Going Down. Harris winds up the night with a benedictory, hopeful solo version of Good Night America.

A Haunting, Hypnotic Elegy For People of Color Murdered by Police Since 2017

Cinematic postrock soul band Algiers originally released the anti-police violence broadside Cleveland on their 2017 album The Underside of Power. Frontman Franklin James Fisher’s impassioned vocals channeled determination to decimate what’s left of Jim Crow, whether the old or new kinds. In the wake of the protests of the past several months, they’ve released one of the most extended singles of all time, Cleveland 20/20 – streaming at Bandcamp – adding the names of 232 innocent people of color murdered by police since the song first came out. Fisher has also included the victims of the child murders that plagued Atlanta from 1979 to 1981. It is even more of a shock to discover that so many of these people were women.

This is sort of the Shoah single of 2020: haunting, hypnotic and relentless, over a swirling, gothic motorik background that decays to bleakly atmospheric free jazz. And at almost thirty-four minutes, it’s as grimly relevant as music gets in 2020.

There’s also a “vocal mix” that’s about half as long, with just the roll call of the murdered, gospel harmonies and handclaps.

Karmic Payback Via Video

Catherine Russell‘s new video You Reap Just What You Sow reinvents the Alberta Hunter gospel/blues classic as oldtimey string band music, with Larry Campbell on acoustic guitar and Howard Johnson on tuba. But as impassioned as Russell’s vocals are – karma is a real bitch –  this is even more noteworthy since it’s her first-ever recording on mandolin. Little-known fact: the famous jazz chanteuse is also a first-class bluegrass musician.

Elizabeth Cook’s Perfect Girls of Pop is a ballsy satire of corporate radio cheesiness. The big joke is when the chorus kicks in – and she’s got the autotune dialed up all the way to hideous. Yeah, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel – but it’s still fun to hear the carnage.

It’s Time For a New National Anthem

In honor of Juneteenth, it’s time we got ourselves a new national anthem. Let’s retire The Star Spangled Banner and adopt We Shall Overcome instead. Why? Let’s cut to the chase: We Shall Overcome kicks The Star Spangled Banner’s ass.

You may have wondered why we don’t we hear more Francis Scott Key compositions at concerts halls across the country, considering how often The Star Spangled Banner gets played. That’s because there aren’t any. Reality check: Key was an amateur lyricist, and a horrible one. He stole the melody from a drinking song that was popular at the time. Would we hire somebody with those credentials to write the song that’s supposed to represent an entire nation? Of course not.

On a conceptual level, The Star Spangled Banner is an epic fail. First of all, it’s hard to sing. It sounds best when sung by a woman: the melody leaps all over the place, and most men don’t have the range to hit the high notes. Not everybody can be Rocco Scotti.

Secondly, it’s pompous and pretentious. The word “o’er” appears more than once. When Key wrote the song in 1812, “o’er” wasn’t even in use in the United States. Falling back on that particular archaism instead of using the more natural “over” or “above” is just Key taking a feeble stab at what passed for poetry at the time. If he’d really had any poetic talent, he either would have tweaked the tune to fit the word “over,” or he would have rewritten the lyric.

Thirdly, the song is about a battle that the United States LOST. Every time somebody sings The Star Spangled Banner, they commemorate an enemy victory. Is that something we want to celebrate?

Over the years, lots of people have championed Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land as a natural replacement. And it’s a good song – but it’s long. Way too long to work at sporting events and such.

But We Shall Overcome fits the bill perfectly. It’s inspiring. It celebrates triumph over adversity and tyranny – something that this country is actually pretty good at. It’s short – you can be done with it in less than a minute. It’s simple, easy to remember, and it’s unisex: anyone can sing it. And it has hallowed historical resonance going back to the earliest African-American resistance in the 18th century. You can interpret it as a folk song, a protest song or a hymn, choices all appropriate in a democracy.

If you think it’s time for a national anthem that genuinely reflects who we are, share this around and let’s start a movement!

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Compilation: Five Albums of Crescent City Madness

What can you do when you’re unemployed (temporarily, let’s hope) and your city’s nightlife has gone completely dark? You could fire up Bandcamp and listen to all five of the albums of Jazz Fest: the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival compilation. In a sick way, most New Yorkers will never have as much time on our hands as we do now – and let’s all swear that we will never again use this same excuse for sitting around listening to long albums!

This playlist spans several decades of revelry. Pretty much every style of music and every culture to ever play the festival are represented here – historically, New Orleans has been a melting pot every bit as diverse as New York. There are a lot of big names from across the years, a bunch of standards and many rare treats as well. In general, these are LONG songs: if you can multitask, the compilation has you covered for two days of a work week.

It’s a mixed bag. Some of the segues are jarring, and you can quit halfway through album five without missing anything. Giving Kenny Neal and his generic blues band fifteen minutes, more than just about anybody else, to phone in a medley was a waste. Surely the compilers could have found something more compelling from Professor Longhair than the song where he plays a trebly Wurlitzer…and whistles. Notwithstanding how much great material Preservation Hall Jazz Band have put out lately, we get…My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It? And who really wants to hear all the band intros at the end of a rote version of a familiar Clarence Frogman Henry novelty song?

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s a ton of great material you can use for your own playlists. You can tell from the first few close harmonies of Hey, Now Baby that it’s Henry Butler at the piano. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are represented by a pouncing guitar-and-sax-fueled 2004 take of Blackbird Special. Dr. John’s emphatic, darkly stirring Litanie des Saints and a smoldering, vengeful, psychedelic take of I Walk on Gilded Splinters could be the high point of the whole album. The soulful John Boutte contributes a simmering post-Katrina parable, Louisiana 1927, a tale of “Twelve feet of water in the Lower Nine….They’re trying to wash us away, don’t let ’em!”

The Al Belletto Big Band bring the storm with their mambo-tinged Jazzmocracy. Bluesman Champion Jack Dupree and pianist Allen Toussaint deliver Bring Me Flowers While I’m Living with plenty of gallows humor, then cut loose in Rub a Little Boogie. Toussaint turns in a brass-fueled Yes We Can Can, as well as What Is Success, with Bonnie Raitt on sunbaked slide guitar, a little later on.

The expansive, oldtimey version of Summertime, by the Original Liberty Jazz Band featuring Dr. Michael White is strikingly fresh. The bursts from the choir in Ain’t Nobody Can Do Me Like Jesus, by Raymond Myles with the Gospel Soul Children are viscerally breathtaking. The Zion Harmonizers‘ I Want to Be At the Meeting and Golden Gate Gospel Train are just as stirring instrumentally as they are vocally.

The accordion/fiddle harmonies of the Savoy Family Cajun Band‘s Midland Two Step are especially juicy. When Beausoleil‘s sad twelve-string guitar waltz Recherche d’Acadie finally appears, four albums in, it’s actually a welcome break from all the relentless good cheer. Shortly afterward, the Neville Brothers’ slow-burning Yellow Moon rises to an eerily surreal halfspeed dixieland raveup. And bluesman John Mooney’s It Don’t Mean a Doggone Thing, Deacon John‘s Happy Home and Sonny Landreth‘s Blue Tarp Blues each have some sizzling slide guitar. Those are just some of the highlights: at this point, it’s time to stop and turn it over to you. Enjoy.

Vienna Carroll’s New Album Reveals the Defiant, Transgressive Roots of Gospel and Blues Classics

Vienna Carroll could be called a New York counterpart to Rhiannon Giddens. Both artists share a deep, historically-informed, often witheringly insightful knowledge of the roots of African-American music, and can be riveting performers. Carroll’s new album, Harlem Field Recordings – streaming at youtube – includes both politically-charged reinventions of classic blues and gospel themes as well as more traditional numbers and originals which sound like 19th century standards. It’s classic music as you’ve probably never heard it before. Carroll also has a show tomorrow night, March 6 at 5:30 PM at a familiar haunt, the American Folk Art Museum; admission is free.

She opens the record’s first track, Strawberries and Glory with the shout of an oldtime urban fruit vendor. This is a one-chord gospel jam sung rousingly over a backdrop of Michael O’Brien’s fat bass chords, Keith Johnston’s stingingly resonant dobro and Newman Taylor Baker’s subtly swinging washboard percussion. Midway through the song, Carroll switches to a hilarious subway vendor scenario, bringing this story into the present day: over the years, good entrepreneurs may change their pitches, but ultimately, business savvy hasn’t changed much. Happily, Carroll’s story doesn’t include what could have happened to this enterprising businesswoman, when she moved to another car on the train…and got busted by an undercover cop, simply for trying to make an honest living.

The group follow with a bouncy, country blues-tinged version of the old spiritual You Better Mind. Carroll’s slowly simmering 6/8 take of Come Into My Kitchen draws a straight line back to the Howlin’ Wolf classic Sitting on Top of the World, with a sparkly guitar solo at the center. She half-sings, half-speaks her way through the grim narrative of No Mo Freedom, the vengeful promise of a wrongfully convicted prisoner at Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm. She uses the same technique a little later on in her spare bass-and-vocal arrangement of Grinnin’ in Your Face.

Prison Blues, with the full band adding a funky sway behind her, is just as harrowing – and just as vindictive, in keeping with a familiar theme in Carroll’s work, four hundred years of defiance and subversion against racism and repression. Her interpretation of Let’s Go Down to the River is several levels more fervent than the wispy version you may have heard on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

With the band blending in a thicket of psychedelically-influenced guitar (and a wry Coltrane quote), Carroll’s approach to I Just Wanna Make Love to You reinforces its origins as a transgressive slave anthem. Likewise, Carroll’s stark remake of All the Pretty Little Horses, spiced with Melanie Dyer’s viola reveals a level of crushing sarcasm in what’s usually interpreted as an innocuous lullaby. The black nursemaid sees a bright future for the slaveowner’s kid in her arms; meanwhile, her own baby is crying from hunger in the slave quarters.

Carroll’s rousing Make the Devil Leave Me Alone leaves no doubt that this is no mere hymn; it’s an escaped slave’s anthem. She winds up the album triumphantly with Singing Wid a Sword in My Hand, a thinly veiled tale that takes that escape to its logical conclusion. It’s a party for our right to fight, something we really need to take seriously at a point where the DNC is shooting itself in the foot, handing over the 2020 election to the Trumpies just as they did in 2016.