International Review of Music

Brian Arsenault

Some of the greatest art of ages past and sometimes present has been faith based — much classical music, once nearly all painting and sculpture.  That sometimes makes us uncomfortable to discuss or even mention in this secular age but it’s true enough. There have also been more than a few great jazz artists who were strong in their faith.  That maybe also makes us just a little leery to say, but it’s true enough as well.

This wonderful jazz album seems strongly Christian in the best sense of love for humankind and gratefulness for life and salvation.  But it is no less accomplished jazz for that. From Will Scruggs’ sax work to Brian Hogan’s fine piano to the rhythm section of Tommy Sauter and Marlon Patton, this recording is as complex and pleasing as it is deeply felt.

The musicianship is superb. The Angel Gabriel arrives with a fanfare to shake the knees of all us sinners on “The Annunciation,” and the “Song of Mary” shows why she is the favorite of so many of the faithful, including a recent Pope or two.

But all is not imposing here. The album’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is as joyous as the title shout out. “Go Down Moses” rings of its African American origins and Dixieland playing. (Interestingly, here and elsewhere we are presented in the album’s booklet with the lyrics to all songs, but the recording is all instrumental.)

If you never thought “We Three Kings” was a fine jazz composition, you will change your mind.  And if you haven’t felt the elevated state of these musicians at their work before we get there, you can’t miss it on the closing “Joy to the World.”  Particularly when the terrific horn ensemble kicks in to fortify the core quintet.

As the story goes, God promised Simeon he would see the Savior before he died. I can only promise you really, really good jazz.

International Review of Music – Short Takes: Of Christmas Music Four Ways