the gospel jazzKirk Whalum gives us enough instrumental jazz to make the jazz fan happy while throwing in some jazz-tinged pop/funk/R&B on the side. And a McCartney tune...?!

The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter IV
Kirk Whalum                                                                              www.kirkwhalum.comTop Drawer Records / Mack Avenue Records

Disc 1: 15 tracks / 70:06
Disc 2: 13 tracks / 58:50

Continuing his series of live 'gospel' jazz concerts, Kirk Whalum leads a multifaceted group of musicians – picking up his own tenor and soprano saxophones and flute in the process – and delivers a generous double-disc full of jazz in all styles and colors, and all dedicated to God. On The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter IV, the sounds – all jazz-tinged - range from smooth pop grooves to the kind of sophisticated instrumental jams that will delight the more serious fans of the genre.

The project mixes covers of familiar songs from the world of pop and R&B with original compositions. Rounded out by a fine, respectfully tasty trumpet rendition of "Ave Maria," a smooth, soulful, jazzy vocal interpretation of "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" (accompanied only by piano), and an instrumental ode to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," Whalum covers all bases, musically. What the jazz-man risks with hardcore jazz audience he gains by offering a project that has a more broad-based appeal than a strictly instrumental venture would have had – and the recording does have a generous nineteen songs out of the twenty-eight listed tracks (for those doing the math, nine tracks are spoken introductions).

The live album was recorded at Brooklyn's shining jewel, Christian Cultural Center – and the sound is warm, clear and vivid, with excellent space for the sound of each human and instrumental voice to shine through – and what wonderful sounds they all are: Kirk Whalum (tenor and soprano sax, flute, vocals), Norman Brown (guitar, vocals), Rick Braun (trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone, vocals), Leonard "Doc" Gibbs (percussion), Sheléa (vocals, piano), John Stoddart (piano, vocals, additional keyboards), Gerald Veasley (electric and fretless basses), Kevin Whalum (vocals), Kenneth Whalum III (tenor and soprano saxophones), Marcus Finnie (drums), Braylon Lacy (electric and upright basses), Ralph T. Lofton (Hammond B3 organ), Kevin Turner (electric and acoustic guitars), Kortland Whalum (vocals), Gary Bias (additional alto saxophone), and Tamara Bodie (additional background vocals).

The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter IV starts off with a mellow, tasty sax and electric piano duet rendition of the hymn, "Just As I Am." In startling contrast, the next song we hear is "Let 'Em In." Yes, the McCartney tune – only, this time it's more like 'Let Him In,' as the lyric is tweaked just enough to make it clear Who's really knockin' and what door it is! Whalum manages to keep the song very much intact while picking out the snatches of melody and the infectious riffs that made the song so catchy in the first place, infusing them with jazz chops, and making it all work! He even manages to quote the melody of "Jesus Loves Me (This I Know)" in the mix. Followed by Curtis Mayfield's "Keep On Pushin'" and The Fugees' "My Hero," The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter IV starts off veering dangerously close to sounding like a slick jazz/pop cover album but "This Is The Day" returns to an instrumental format with some nice soloing on flute and keys. For those who are familiar with one of the pioneering Christian jazz bands, Koinonia, this and a few other tracks might bring back those memories.

There are, in fact, ten excellent instrumental numbers on this project – more than enough to have been an instrumental-only album. Highlights are many, but especially memorable are the Afro-Latin vibe and inspired playing on "Un Amor Supremo," the deep jazzy feel of "Triage," with the guitarist's brilliant insertion of The Doxology ("Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow....") into his solo, the brilliant drumming by Marcus Finnie on "Madiba," and, of course, "Kirk's Improv" - the title of which speaks for itself.

Once again, we get an unexpected surprise as a closing track – Todd Rundgren's "Love is he Answer," which gets a funky jazz treatment to close the show.

In a way, you get two albums for the price of one with The Gospel According To Jazz Chapter IV – one, a set of jazzy cover versions and the other a more straight-forward instrumental jazz outing. Whalum's passion for his music and his Lord are both well-represented here, and while a little editing of the song introductions might have been a good idea, you always have the ability to skip right to the music. I'm up for Chapter V! If instrumental jazz, smooth jazz, and soulful, funky R&B are in your bag, you'll enjoy this. You'll just have to trust me about the McCartney tune...

4 Tocks
- Bert Saraco

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