The Abyssinian Mass: Wynton Marsalis Music Review

Sometimes Facebook gives us gifts. A few months ago a promo showed up on my Wall. Because of my love of Jazz and my admiration of Wynton Marsalis, a post with a link to a video for the soon to be released “The Abyssinian Mass” caught my attention. What I saw was amazing.

I went to Amazon and pre-ordered so I’d get it immediately on its release.

Marsalis has emerged as a trumpet virtuoso equally fluent in jazz and classical languages, know that the intertwined subjects of faith and religion long have coursed through his work. Even his first great suite, “The Majesty of the Blues” (1989), contained at its center a vast sermon.

“The Abyssinian Mass,” performed by the JALC Orchestra, the Chorale le Chateau and its vocal soloists. “It’s a piece that’s based on the form of the typical Baptist service in the Afro-American church, but it incorporates elements of the entire Christian church tradition,” Marsalis says in a bonus DVD featuring his commentary alongside video clips (the first two discs are CD recordings of the complete work, as performed Oct. 24-26, 2013 in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York).

THE ABYSSINIAN MASSCommissioned to mark the 200th anniversary of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, the epic work begins with an exclamation point, the band’s big-swing exuberance, heady reed-section trills and slashing jazz chords reminding listeners that Marsalis knows how to get our attention.

Before long, the choir is humming insinuatingly, evoking the Holy Ghost in the Mass’ opening Devotional movement. Singer Jamal Moore reaches down into the depths of his magisterial bass to sing “I didn’t hear nobody prayin’,” as if calling all humanity together for the rites that are set to begin. In all, it’s a brilliant curtain-raiser hinting at the music yet to come, from the jazz-swing orations of the orchestra to the vocal incantations of the Chorale le Chateau and soloists.

On the 23 movements found on the two discs, “The Abyssinian Mass” thunders and sighs, its massively scored passages yielding to plaintive vocal solos, its full-throated choral sections giving way to introspective instrumental cadenzas. Though Damien Sneed is listed as conducting orchestra and chorus, in fact he’s presiding over uncounted combinations of voices and instruments, “The Abyssinian Mass” so fluid that it often changes tempo, direction and tone during the course of a single episode.

Therein lies the central message of “The Abyssinian Mass,” which seeks salvation through faith. If Butts’ sermon crystallizes the point in words, Marsalis’ “Pastoral Prayer” movement does so in music. This sprawling, multi-section piece overflows with ornate vocal solos, flurries from Marsalis’ trumpet , gospel-tinged orchestral interludes, fevered solo flights from alto saxophonist Sherman Irby and serene expressions from the chorus.

Elsewhere “The Abyssinian Mass” offers the soaring vocal passages of “The Lord’s Prayer,” hyper-virtuosic reed-section passagework in “Gloria Patri” and surging, redemptive choral climaxes in “Through Him I’ve Come to See.”

Longtime Marsalis listeners will recognize certain musical ideas that surface throughout his oeuvre. His love of portraying the clatter and rhythm of locomotives, in works such as “Big Train” (1999), re-emerges in the Recessional to “The Abyssinian Mass,” aptly titled “The Glory Train.” And the spirit of the “Holy Ghost” movement of “In This House” echoes in Marsalis’ and Marcus Printup’s trumpet cries answering Butts’ sermon.

Like the sanctified jazz expressions of Duke Ellington (the Sacred Concerts), John Coltrane (“A Love Supreme”) and Dave Brubeck (“The Gates of Justice”), among others, Marsalis’ “The Abyssinian Mass” stands as a monumental opus from a composer-performer with a great deal to say about subjects profoundly worth contemplating.

Thanks Facebook for the amazing gift!

A Comprehensive Guide to Home Studio Acoustics

Home studio aocusticssource: resonics.co.uk

 

Music Review: Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here

We Like It HereA couple of months ago while working on a music project together, my friend and brilliant musician Robert Puff recommended this band to me. One listen and I was hooked! This isn’t for everyone, Jazz isn’t an art form that attracts across all platforms, but these guys are worth the listen.

Snarky Puppy is changing up the game completely and is making Jazz more popular than it has been for a long time. Jazz and Funk have been areas of music that a lot of people have said was dead, but it looks like it is being brought back to life with this album Snarky Puppy has put together entitled, “We like It Here” Though the group is still somewhat underground, the group’s popularity is catching fire.

The machine, that is Snarky Puppy, is a collective of musicians from the Dallas and New York area that are musically inclined on a whole other level. In the mainstream world of music, this is what’s going to become the popular style of music. It’s a fusion of Jazz and Funk that feels worldly, in the sense that it’s a style of music that is nodded at in almost every country on the planet. So, hats off to them for getting some more mainstream buzz, as well as winning a Grammy for Best R&B Performance.

Just like all their other albums and DVDs, the group recorded this album during a live performance, which this time was in front of a sold out London crowd. The group consists of about 40 musicians and everyone puts in what they have to offer. As a collective, the group puts together all of the musical ideas and from there, they run away with it.

Not everyone is going to be a fan of some new age Jazz, but I think you should give it a try before you decide to put it down. Their music is hip, it’s fresh and very distinct. Most of all, it’s original and I can truly say that I haven’t heard very much music like it.

Here’s a little taste:

This is a group of musicians who really get music. The way they blend the layers of rhythm and melody is just simply amazing. There’s not a single complaint I have about this album, and I highly suggest it to everyone. I have a feeling that fans, of every style of music, will be able to relate to the coolness of Snarky Puppy. So, make sure to check it out and enjoy.

Here’s What 2000 Marbles Sound Like

marble machineThis is what Swedish musician Martin Molin did with 2000 marbles.

And you thought a drum set was a pain to load and unload at gigs!

The maestro of the mini-piano [video]

toy pianoWith a doctorate from Juilliard, Margaret Leng Tan  is the rare musician who chooses toy instruments.

She’s even played them at Carnegie Hall.

The craziest instrument you’ve ever seen or heard

eigenharpOne of my favorite childhood movies is Mary Poppins. In the movie Dick Van Dyke plays an instrument that is rather complex.

The Eigenharp is even more complex than it looks. It sounds like cross between a sax, a clarinet, a synth, drums…actually, it sounds like all the instruments. Literally all of them, both electronic and physical instruments.

Gratitude & Peace

Gratitude… I’m filled with it, for my family, my chosen family, my friends, my colleagues and for those whom I serve.

I am an optimistic and reflective person, somewhat introspective and very philosophical. I’m also pretty self-aware. So these are thoughts for this Christmas of 2015.

Being part of a very positive company, as well as,, working with performers for an entertainment company is great. I do my best to put a dent in the universe and I choose to be a positive force for good in the world.

In preparation for our SCT show, at our final choir rehearsal, I quoted a passage from a book by Rob Bell: “We are both large and small, strong and weak, formidable and faint, reflecting the image of the divine, and formed from dust.” For me, it helps put things into perspective. We are all connected. We all need one another. The minute we think we are the center of the universe, that’s the moment we realize we are but a small part of a massive puzzle.

Even though “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”, for many, Christmastime can be a struggle. The reality is many of us are hurting. The circumstances could be great or small. There is fear in the world. Some people even use threats as a business model. There is anxiety caused by a multitude of conditions. Some of my close friends deal with great sadness of loved ones gone.

RHP_7230At the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree show, I sang a duet with my good friend John Cameron entitled “Peace”. Here are some of the lyrics (written by Michael McDonald):

I have come from so far away / Down the road of my own mistakes / In the hope you could hear me pray / Oh Lord, keep me in Your reach

How I’ve longed through these wasted years / To outrun all the pain and fear / Turned to stone from my uncried tears / And now it’s Your grace I seek

Oh wondrous child of whom the Angels sing / Know my joy, feel my suffering / Shining star make this love you bring / So bright that I may believe

We sang this song for us, and for those whom this season reminds them of pain. It’s too easy to offer platitudes that fall short of comforting the soul. The more we try to be candid with our pain, the harder it is to fake “having it all together”. Maybe we should try to allow for those dark nights, so as, to reach deeper truths. One of those truths I’m trying to live into is; we are all connected…

I’d encourage all of us to take time to look at the one you’re speaking with in the eye. Slow down and listen. Ask questions. Be curious. Be interested, rather than interesting. Use their name with affection in your tone. Make them feel important.

Here’s a worthy motto: Experience God’s love, then give it away. You may be what keeps them sane. Your love and affection could be the difference in their day. How do we love God? By loving others (Matthew 22:35-40).

I am filled with gratitude… for the beauty of connectedness.

The world’s most dazzling Christmas lights

I have the privilege of being the Artistic Director for The Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree. As I conduct, I have a first row view of almost 300,000 lights. Here are some beautiful displays of Christmas lights from around the world.ChristmasLights

The Baseline of Jazz

What do razor blades have to do with jazz? Learn more from this infographic!

The Baseline on Jazz