As I haven't posted for a few days, and it's a Sunday, here are two reviews with a liturgical theme. 'Contrived' seems to be the watchword with Gordon's well-meaning but very stiff music. I'm off to play 'A Love Supreme'...
WYCLIFFE GORDON & THE GARDEN CITY GOSPEL CHOIR
In The Cross
Criss Cross Jazz (1253 CD)
All Day Long; Sang My Song; Going Home I; I’m Glad; I Want Jesus To Walk With Me; Just A Closer Walk With Thee; Holy, Holy, Holy; Wade In The Water; Near The Cross; Help Me Somebody; Glory Hallelujah; All Day Long Sang My Song; Going Home I; When The Saints Go Marching In; I Came To Jesus.
Marcus Printup (t); Wycliffe Gordon tb); Victor Goines (ts, ss, cl); Eric Reed (p); Damien Sneed (org); Reginald Veal (b); Alvin Atkinson Jr (d); The Garden City Gospel Choir (voc).
Recorded December 2003 to January 2004.
A graduate of both Wynton Marsalis’ Septet and the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, 37-year old Wycliffe Gordon has packed a lot of high profile gigs into a short career to date. Sometimes too much, it would seem, his projects having a tendency to touch every stylistic base ever reached by the trombone - from New Orleans to be-bop, gospel, and more recently funk-inflected soul-jazz.
In The Cross, his fifth disc for Criss Cross, is something of an extension of his 2000 release ‘The Gospel Truth’, sharing many of the same personnel. The concept, however, is taken a significant step further with the addition of a full gospel choir, allowing Gordon to write three part harmony arrangements on many of the favourite his of his youth. So prominently is the choir featured that you could be forgiven for thinking that this was their date, Gordon simply jobbing as musical director.
Those remembering Wynton’s In This House On This Morning (Columbia, 1992), another Gospel based session featuring Gordon, will be aware of the shortcomings of such projects. Whilst timeless classics such as Coltrane’s A Love Supreme succeed almost universally as heartfelt statements transcending all boundaries of faith, fastidious attempts to re-enact church ritual, such as In The Cross, seem contrived and lacking in any meaningful resonance for any listener not already of the congregation.
I don’t doubt for a second Gordon’s sincerity, nor the profound influence of gospel music on jazz, but music as genre-bound and unreconstructed as this belongs only to a very small niche of purists. Solo space for the musicians is at a premium, but Printup, Reed and Goines are as surefooted as you’d expect when their moments to step out of the wings arrive.
‘Wade In The Water’ inevitably shines as a highlight, it’s irresistible chorus framing Gordon’s most spirited solo. Arrangements are traditional with a capital ‘T’, with no attempt made to give any of the material a contemporary twist. Versions of such warhorses as ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ offer nothing you won’t have heard numerous times before, and the considerable musical personalities of the top-notch band are stifled by the requirements for authenticity. In The Cross, despite lavish production from a normally unerring record label, is ultimately a product for an audience somewhere close to, but finally just beyond, jazz.
(Jazz Review , November 2004)