New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: gospel music

Soulful Vintage-Style Gospel in Williamsburg on the First of September

More about that killer twinbill this Sept 1 at 7 PM at Baby’s All Right on the south side of Williamsburg where psychedelic Afrobeat band Super Yamba share an evening with the retro 60s-inspired Harlem Gospel Travelers. No idea of who’s headlining, but it really doesn’t matter: both bands get everybody on their feet. Cover is $15.

The Harlem Gospel Travelers – main songwriter Ifedayo (Thomas) Gatling, singers George Marage and Dennis Keith Bailey III – write vintage soul songs with messages of praise and uplift. Their latest vinyl record Look Up is scheduled to hit their Bandcamp page toward the end of next month. The energy is infectious and the hooks come at you nonstop: although the message is Christian, the music transcends any particular denomination or lack thereof.

They open with the title track, Gatling’s vocals swooping up to falsetto-land in a tale of making a big comeback from spiritual estrangement. Considering how atomized people in this city have become over the last thirty months, it’s inspiring, to say the least.

The band shift from a tricky intro to a bouncy 6/8 beat in Hold On (Joy Is Coming). Bailey takes over lead vocals on God’s In Control, a fervently bristling clapalong propelled by guitarist Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s biting, purist, reverbtoned minor-key riffage.

The group stay in the same swaying groove for Help Me to Understand: reduced to lowest terms, it’s a twinkling love ballad. They hit a breezy take on a classic, stomping Four Tops sound in Nothing But His Love, pushed along by Jesse Barnes’ bass and Noah Rubin’s drums.

Gatling builds to a big optimistic peak over Colin Brown’s keening organ, then the band hit an undulating psychedelic soul groove in Fight On!, an indomitable protest song: “Get your knee off my neck, get your bullet off my chest!”

Reed hits his fuzzbox for Hold Your Head Up – a cheery call-and-response original, not the interminably cheesy 70s pop hit. The band keep the upbeat sway going through That’s the Reason, a vampy early 70s-style soul-jazz tune and follow with Let Me Tell You, Kendall “Youngblood” Kent on the mic and airing out his low register .

The group rise from a gentle, dusky ambience toward jubilation in God Will Take Care of You. Pastor Cynthia McCants guests on the brisk, propulsive final cut, I’m Grateful (Gatling), the whole crew joining voices in a big singalong designed to get the whole congregation involved. How serendipitous it is that we can congregate for music like this again without fear of reprisal – for the moment, anyway.

Javon Jackson Reinvents Rare Spirituals with Nikki Giovanni’s Help

For his latest album, which hasn’t hit the web yet, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson asked poet Nikki Giovanni if she could suggest ten spirituals that he ought to record. She gave him a list with only a small handful of standards: otherwise, the tracks on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni are on the rare side. What’s more, the album marks possibly the first time this century that Giovanni has been featured on record as a lead singer.

She picked the ballad Night Song as a salute to her old friend Nina Simone. Since Jackson’s current home state, Connecticut, was locked down, he had to fly to Giovanni’s home in Virginia to cut the vocals. Pianist Jeremy Manasia plays spare, resonant chords beneath Jackson’s balmy lines as bassist David Williams and drummer McClenty Hunter provide whispery rhythm; Giovanni’s weathered evocation of being alone in a bustling crowd packs a wallop.

The first of the spirituals is a straightforwardly swinging take of Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, a beautiful, stern minor-key tune, Jackson’s cantabile lead giving way to Manasia’s biting chords and elegant rudiments from Hunter.

Of the well-known numbers here, Wade in the Water makes a good segue, Jackson adding some spicy flourishes to his sailing lines, Manasia rising and falling before Christina Greer joins in to speak Giovanni’s scarily prescient words on how it’s up the outcasts and nonconformists among us to keep an otherwise soulless world alive.

The quartet reinvent Swing Low Sweet Chariot as a sly, slinky calypso jazz tune. yeah mon! By contrast, another familiar favorite, Mary Had a Baby, Yes Lord draws a straight line back to somber Birmingham-era Coltrane as well as Miles Davis. The group’s take of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is much the same, with a regal, glittering, Mulgrew Miller-esque solo from Manasia.

But it’s the obscurities that everyone is going to want to hear. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms is an aptly warm lullaby of a melody, Jackson giving it a calm midtempo swing and a misty-toned solo.

I’ve Been Buked (as in “rebuked”) has special historical resonance since Mahalia Jackson sang it at the Lincoln Memorial on the day of Martin Luther King’s famous March on Washington speech there. Williams bookends it with stark bowing, Jackson letting the clouds drift away before Manasia’s glittering solo

Lord, I Want to Be a Christian, a duo arrangement for piano and sax, has an aptly reverent ambience. The group cut loose with a carefree swing in the closing number, I Opened My Mouth to the Lord, only to wind it out with a wary intensity. Gravitas and unselfconscious depth galore on an album which will no doubt be sought out by jazz and gospel fans alike.

The Funniest and Most Serious Songs of the Week

Time for another short self-guided playlist today: half a dozen songs in about eighteen minutes. Click artist names for their webpages; click song titles for audio.

The most hilarious one that’s come over the transom here in the wake of the hissyfit that Neil Young (and maybe his hedge fund handlers) threw about Rogan and Spotify is Sold Man, Curtis Stone and Media Bear’s parody of Neil Young’s Old Man. They nail everything, right down to the whiny falsetto:

Locked down in this 5G town
Live alone in the metaverse
Klaus Schwab’s coming for you…
I’m alone at last when I failed to cancel Rogan

Download it for free here

On a more serious note, Dr. Dan Merrick has just released the protest song Wrong’s Not Right, a catchy update on classic 1950s-style country gospel. When’s the last time you heard a country gospel song that mentioned beer – and not in a disparaging way?

On an even more serious note, Dietrich Klinghardt just wrote a beautiful, haunting Appalachian gothic-tinged protest song, Angels Come:

A wealthy clique controls our leaders
And the internet, the media west and east
Are these billionaires ordained by God to lead us?
Behind their eyes we sense the mark of the beast

Last year, Lydia Ainsworth recorded a trio of songs from her Sparkles & Debris album with a string section. If you liked the Pretenders’ Isle of View orchestral record, you’ll love the new version of Halo of Fire: “Allow your thoughts to roam as freely as they desire”

On the mysterious side, Terra Lightfoot and Jane Ellen Bryant team up for Somebody Was Gonna Find Out. Find out what? It’s a good story, open to multiple interpretations. Two acoustic guitars, two voices: see if you can figure it out.

Let’s wrap this up with Elle Vance‘s La Beaute de la Vie – with Tayssa Hubert on vocals – which is part Edith Piaf, part reggae. It works. Go figure. This is the French version; sadly, the English version is autotuned.

A Playful, Eclectic, Un-Cheesy Christmas Jazz Album From Singer Vienna Carroll

Singer Vienna Carroll is best known for bringing a fascinating level of historical insight to her songwriting and interpretations of black American folk music from across the decades and centuries. But she’s also an actress, and she has great comedic timing. She has a new Christmas album, Mary Had a Baby streaming at youtube.

The track that’s getting a lot of traction is Santa Baby, Carroll exchanging increasingly sly innuendo with percussionist Keith Johnston. The band – which also includes pianist Dan Furman and bassist Michael O’Brien – give the song a saloon jazz flair.

The group reinvent Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time Is Here as a jazz waltz, Carroll airing out the expressive side of her lower register. The album’s impassioned, resolute gospel title track is the closest thing to Carroll’s earlier work. And the third number, Alone in the World features a lush but restrained string section over lyrical piano: this song from the cult favorite 1962 cartoon Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol has unexpected angst for holiday album fare. Which is another reason why this tantalizingly short record transcends the limits of a genre that makes a lot of people wish December 26 would come a month earlier.

A Soulful, Gospel-Inspired, Overdue Debut From Individualistic Jazz Singer Trineice Robinson

Trineice Robinson brings deep gospel roots to her work in jazz. Like most good singers, she’s covered a lot of ground throughout her career, from classical choral music, to jazz and various touring gigs. So it’s something of a surprise that her new album All Or Nothing – streaming at Spotify – is her debut as a bandleader. She sings in a disarmingly direct, no-nonsense delivery and has a fearless political sensibility. She comes across as an individualist who defies categorization: there’s the immediacy of classic soul music here, coupled to jazz sophistication, gospel rapture and fervor.

She kicks off the album ambitiously, making an inventive diptych out of All or Nothing At All. There’s a gritty intensity in her voice in the hard-driving first part, Don Braden’s tenor sax percolating over Cyrus Chestnut’s emphatic piano, Kenny Davis’ bass and Vince Ector’s drums. The starry interlude midway through is an unexpected touch; the band swing it hard on the way out.

Likewise, she remakes Wayne Shorter’s Footprints as a latin jazz waltz, tenor saxophonist Nils Mossblad breaking out of brassy harmonies with trombonist Ian Kaufman and trumpeter John Meko as percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell joins Ector in a turbulent backdrop. The lyrics – by Robinson and Nandita Rao – obliquely reflect the challenge that comes with standing on the shoulders of Civil Rights era giants.

Chestnut shines and glitters in a strikingly intimate duo take of Ellington’s Come Sunday, Robinson playing up the song’s unshackled political subtext. From there she makes another diptych out of her blues-tinted original If This Is Love and The Very Thought of You, reinvented as an altered waltz with an unexpected modal intensity and a spine-tingling vocal coda.

Robinson’s supple, unhurried take of You Taught My Heart to Sing draws on the McCoy Tyner version, through a glass, distantly, lit up by Chestnut’s Errol Garner-esque ornamentation. The band have a great time with Monk’s I Mean You, Robinson updating the jaunty Jon Hendricks version with a knowingly sly, very Monkish sense of humor.

She and the group find unexpected tropical joy but also gravitas in Natalie Cole’s La Costa, Braden switching to flute. The band’s suave wee-hours contentment – and Chestnut’s occasional LOL flourish – in Save You Love For Me fuels Robinson’s determined delivery.

Robinson closes the album with a swinging, New Orleans-tinged take of the gospel standard Let It Shine: once again, she leaves no doubt that this is liberation theology.

Her lyrical update to a brisk stroll through Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is also an aptly relevant touch; the cheesy DX7 electric piano that Chestnut gets stuck behind is not.

Lauren Anderson Airs Out Her Powerful Pipes on Her Sizzling New Album

Lauren Anderson has one of those rare, arresting voices you only hear once every ten years or so. She can belt the blues, implore heavenly intervention with a gospel song and channel any kind of soul seduction you could possibly want. Her new album Love on the Rocks is streaming at Soundcloud.

Anderson is a one-woman choir, busting out her most exalted, indestructible gospel intensity for the album’s tantalizingly brief opening track, Keep On, a real showstopper with a 19th century chain gang feel.

The album’s title track, a seduction anthem, shifts between noirish oldschool soul and a big bluesy chorus with a spot-on Bessie Smith reference. Jimi Greene’s searing guitar layers over Hutch’s growling, downtuned bass match Anderson’s potency as the song winds out.

Guest Mike Zito joins Greene and Anderson in supplying simmering, gritty guitar layers over drummer Matt Doctor’s loping groove in Back to Chicago, Anderson delivering a bitter breakup tale in an understated gospel-infused voice, finally reaching for the skies at the end.

The Way I Want is an aphoristically lyrical blues, but with more than a hint of a 70s disco pulse. Organist Kiran Gupta and the string section of Jon and Liz Estes give a stark Indian flavor to Holdin’ Me Down, a trip-hop tune, Anderson channeling the frustration of a claustrophobic relationship.

Greene opens Just Fucking Begun with a nasty pickslide: it’s an insistent, Stonesy stomp with a powerful message about ageist stereotypes, and how women suffer disproportionately as a result. Then Anderson reaches for vintage Tina Turner-style defiance over chicken-scratch funk and then a stomping vintage soul groove in I’m Done.

Stand Still is an unexpected departure into Celtic balladry, Anderson capturing the isolation and desperate need to escape it that’s pervaded these last seventeen months.  Your Turn is the album’s big orchestral ballad, Anderson’s emotionally devastated narrator out on the highway, driving through a haze of wine and tears: “Every time I’m close, the world turns cold, it yanks me back to the starting line.” There are many high points on this album but this will give you goosebumps.

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.