KIRK WHALUM: The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter III (Label: Rendezvous)

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KIRK WHALUM: The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter III

Renowned for his supremely soulful tenor saxophone playing in the often soulless sphere of music that is called smooth jazz, Kirk Whalum has also, occasionally, made forays into the world of gospel music. In fact, his previous inspirational outing, 2002’s ‘The Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter II’ was nominated for a Grammy award. This new 2-CD set, the third instalment of the 51-year-old Memphis saxophone maestro’s ‘The Gospel According To Jazz’ series was recorded live in front of an enthusiastic congregation way back in October 2007 at the Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Maryland. It shows a side of Whalum’s talent that smooth jazz fans may not be aware of. A deeply religious and spiritual man, Whalum’s intent is to spread the Christian message via his music and certainly the unbridled passion and profound sense of joy that comes across would make a believer out of most listeners. The album is a real family affair in terms of personnel – the saxophonist is joined on stage by several generations of Whalums, including his bass-playing son, Kyle, an 80-year-old saxophone-playing uncle called Peanuts, brother Kevin and assorted nephews plus a cousin called Caleb tha Bridge who’s a rapper. They are joined by veteran jazz-funk keyboard sorcerer, George Duke, singer Lalah Hathaway, guitarist Doc Powell and percussionist Lenny Castro. Also, Jerry Peters – veteran producer, arranger and keyboardist – drops in to add a few flourishes of Hammond B3 organ on a couple of tracks. As you’d expect from Kirk Whalum, the music’s very tasteful and impeccably played. It’s also incredibly varied. For example, a real surprise in the instrumental, ‘Ananias & Sapphira,’ an exploratory slice of modal jazz a la John Coltrane or McCoy Tyner, which finds Whalum really pushing himself into unchartered sonic territory. By contrast, ‘If You Ever Need Me,’ is a pulsating, percussion-driven, Latin jazz groove. Lalah Hathaway’s lush, velvet tones grace the beautiful ‘He’s Just Been That Good,’ and she also turns up on a lovely rendering of Luther Vandross’s ‘Make Me A Believer.’ George Duke also provides an arresting cameo on ‘Because You Love Me’ with his deft touch on the acoustic piano. This, then, is a must-have album for Kirk Whalum fans. A DVD of the concert is also available separately.
(CW) 4/5