Tuesday Sep 17

Come Sunday

Hang in for a slight digression. I promise a proper discussion of Crosscurrents after just a couple of short paragraphs of reminiscence.

Back in my CD Review days, the editor phoned to ask if I might be interested in reviewing a CD featuring a duo of vocalists, one of whom played the accordion. There were, he noted in an attempt to sweeten the deal for me, a few guest artists who appeared on one track each: Gerry Mulligan, Claudio Roditi, and Roger Kellaway. I said that I'd pass, thanks.

He phoned again a week later and turned up the pressure. The magazine really needed a review and couldn't talk anyone else into tackling it. I caved, he sent the disc, I listened, and I was bowled over. My review was a total rave. The disc in question was Marano and Monteiro's (that's Nancy and Eddie) A Perfect Match. (At the moment I'm writing this, you can pick up a used copy on Amazon for 99 cents plus shipping. I'd suggest you take a chance on it.)

Now a few weeks ago an email arrived announcing Crosscurrents, the first CD by a "jazz meets gospel" vocal group called Come Sunday. I knew I'd see it soon in the metal mailbox by the road and and I prejudged it negatively. I enjoy gospel music and I enjoy jazz. Certainly there's a connection between the two, but I'm a sort of puriist.  I was pretty sure I didn't care to hear gospel songs and spirituals updated to sung with a jazz touch by four voices with guitar, bass, and drum accompaniment.  I had a feeling it might be something like the awful pop-oriented contemporary religious music I've run across. Can you blame me for expecting the worst from Come Sunday?

But when the disc arrived, it took just one audition to find out that I was (once again) totally wrong. Crosscurrents is a gem. Come Sunday is an amazing group and they're spot on in musical sensibility and performance value.

Neither the jazz nor the gospel is watered down to achieve a melding of the two. According to the liner notes, guitarist Mike Allemana is responsible for the arrangements. His own solos on each track provide a sort of aural palate cleansing in the midst of the rich and resonant vocals. By the way, Allemana's credits include stints with premier jazz organists Dr. Lonnie Smith and Charles Earland.

The group's repertoire on Crosscurrents includes traditional songs like "Keep Your Hand on the Plow," "Wade in the Water," and "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" and pieces with known provenance like Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday," Alex Bradford's "Too Close to Heaven," and Stevie Wonder's "Heaven is 10 Zillion Miles Away." Not all of them work equally well, but even the lesser moments are worth hearing. There's seldom an inclination to hit the "next" button but with a 75 minute playing time, you might well have an "I'll get back to this tomorrow" moment.

Regarding the sound quality, this is another one of those excellent efforts which I've come to expect from Chicago recording studios.  I don't know what goes on in the Windy City that contributes to superbly musical audio engineering. I'm tempted to guess that it's the strong musical tradition that exists and inspires those at Chicago's recording consoles as much as it does Chicago's musicians.

Finally, I find it interesting that the list of "thank yous" that's printed inside the case, Come Sunday does not include the almost obligatory shout out to a deity. They do give appropriate props to Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson, and Thomas A. Dorsey.