Friday, October 16, 2009

The W.E.S. Group: "A Jazz Mass"

I present you a review of a interesting project led by saxophonist and assistant professor at American University in the Department of Performing Arts, Dr. William E. Smith, and played by his ensemble: The W.E.S. Group.

A Jazz Mass is a musical work which its only goal is seeks the way to speak to the heart of all people. This is possible, because although jazz grew up in the secular world of bars, concert halls and on stages, it has strong religious roots in the deep spirituals tradition and Black Church congregational singing. To perform this purpose, and like to jazz legends as Duke Ellington, Vince Guaraldi, among others, William Smith consider the liturgy of Episcopal Church, and he merged it with jazz music. The result: a great sacred jazz composition, with a ritual structure and deep spiritual message.

A Jazz Mass consists in a work divided in eleven parts. These parts are too diverse, with a lot of influences of different modern jazz genres as hard bop, post bop, and even fusion and smooth jazz. To listen this project, is a great experience, like a musical walk in the modern jazz garden.

Members of The W.E.S. Group are: William Smith (saxophones, background vocals & bandleader), Imani (vocals), Vince Evans (piano), Corcoran Holt (bass), Nathan Jolley (drums) and David Fount (percussion). In this project also there is a horn section that consists of Kyle Funn (trumpet), Julien Lane (trombone); and background vocals Allison Bennett, William Anderson and Stacee Prigmore-Monroe.

Official website of The W.E.S. Group:

Monday, October 12, 2009

About "Sacred Jazz" article of Eric Reed

On there is an article entitled "Sacred Jazz", written by pianist and composer Eric Reed, in which he explains the relation between gospel music and jazz. I will refer to two important points that Eric mention, and I think there are interesting.
For me, there was never a conscious aesthetic separation of gospel and secular music, but I had enough good sense not to subject the congregation to "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On" during the offering.
Eric mention that the nascence of jazz is in sacred music. Assume that Jelly Roll Morton, the first jazz composer of the history, did not have experience with gospel music is very unlikely. Today, this aspect of jazz is well known, however has not always accepted, and I think due to personal ideologies and prejudices. Jazz had clearly religious influences, directly or indirectly, and there are a lot of examples: John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Ahmad Jamal, among others musicians.
Of a somewhat less "faith-based" intent, is what has been referred to as "funky jazz" or "soul-jazz." This would be jazz that parrots the sound of Black church music and is more contrived than reverent (...) Perhaps, this is where the divide begins with regard to sacred versus secular; whereas one implies an honoring and worshiping, the other has a slightly exploitive dynamic that, over the years, has continued to nosedive into poor imitations, the end result being some minstrel-type exhibition by individuals who have no real clue of the value and essence of a spiritual experience.
For Eric, in this sense perhaps it's possible speak about sacred vs. secular: the first case implies an honoring and worshiping, and the second has a slightly exploitive dynamic that results in only musician exhibition by individuals who have no real clue of the value and essence of a spiritual experience. In this point I think the pianist hits the nail on the head, because if one want "defreeze" a musical composition of sheet, it's necessary to transmit all the background of composition: its technical and spiritual components. An interpretation that does not consider all these aspects, it's only an empty interpretation, without transcendence and full artistic sense.

I think today, it's important that christians musicians and music fans, not only in the world of jazz, disclose the real extent of sacred music. It's very necessary to show that there is a real conection between the musical experience and the divine reality reflected in God.

Eric Reed's official website:

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tyrone Birkett's album "In the Fullness of Time"

Saxophonist Tyrone Birkett grew up and studied in New York city. His first experience with gospel jazz was when he was invited to the Saint Peter's Lutheran Church, the "Jazz Church" to play with a trio. From that moment, and then he formed is own group, The Tyrone Birkett Group, he has been dedicated to play gospel music with a jazz perspective. The Tyrone Birkett Group has player in different places as Brooklyn Academy of Music, Schomburg Library and Lehman College Center for the Performing Arts.

To define the music of Tyrone must be considered different influences and musical elements. In fact, he called it "Jazz/Not Jazz", because it uses jazz improvisation and language as a springboard, but extending and filtering it through gospel, soul and funk. Although this is common in some gospel jazz musicians, the particularity of Tyrone is his ability for converge naturally all these different genres.

Tyrone has only one album, In the Fullness of Time, and it's incredibly well recorded. When one listen each song, it's difficult assimilate that this project is a first work of a musician, because each one of solos are virtuous with a great swing. Also, in this album Tyrone integrate a vocalist, Paula Ralph-Birkett, to communicate easier with audiences and solidifying the musical concept.

Official website of Tyrone Birkett Group:

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Jim Martinez's Jazz Praise

Jim Martinez is a creative and virtuous pianist that has a style which oscillates between bebop, hard bop, cool and sometimes, latin-american rhythms. In relation with his influences, the most important come from straight-ahead jazz musicians as Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Vincent Guaraldi, among others. He have also classical training, especially from ukrainian teacher Yuriy Oliynyk. He won numerous awards: Camellia Symphony and the Chico Symphony Young Artist Concerto Competitions, the Music Teacher's Association Junior Bach Festival (two times), just to name a few.

His ministry called Jazz Praise, is dedicated mainly to create jazz arrangements of traditional and contemporary hymns, however he is an active musician that perform not only sacred jazz; in fact, he has played with different great musicians: Lionel Hampton, the Stan Kenton Alumni, Bucky Pizzarelli, Russell Malone, Jeff Hamilton, the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Benny Golson, Harold Jones and Ed Thigpen, the first drummer for the famous Oscar Peterson Trio. Jim is one of the most active gospel jazz musician and through his ministry travel around USA, promoting jazz as an musical alternative in church, spreading jazz and its relation with Christianity.

Jim has recorded ten jazz projects, and three of them are gospel jazz albums. On this occasion I share with you videos of two of this projects: the first is a recording session of album "Music for your Soul", and the two last correspond to the album "Praise Him with Jazz", with the jazz legend Lionel Hampton as special guest.

Jim Martinez's official website: