Gospel Meets Jazz, With Unpredictable Results Two recent albums, from Don Byron's New Gospel Quintet and Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, offer contrasting perspectives on the intersection of two quintessentially American music styles.


Music Reviews

Gospel Meets Jazz, With Unpredictable Results

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We're listening to some music you might hear in church, but not in the style you'd expect. Two new jazz albums reinterpret gospel songs, but in very different ways.

Tom Moon has this review of both albums - one from Don Byron, the other from Hank Jones and Charlie Haden.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Jazz musicians, even non-religious ones, have a soft spot for gospel. It's part of the foundation of American music, an essential language, like the blues. That doesn't mean they treat gospel tunes gingerly. From Louis Armstrong on down, jazz performers have seized on hymns and spirituals as a starting point for improvisation.


MOON: That's bassist Charles Mingus with his classic group in 1959. His approach to gospel has inspired generations of jazz musicians, including Don Byron, the talented woodwind player heard here on clarinet.


MOON: Byron and his group chase gospel's exuberant side, those toe-tapping, jubilee-style rave-ups. Many of their arrangements open with a vocal chorus followed by solo turns that travel far from what's printed in the hymn book.


MOON: The solos on Byron's new work are certainly high spirited, almost Saturday night boisterous. Sometimes, though, we turn to gospel for calm reflection, and this is where the new album from Hank Jones and Charlie Haden shines.


MOON: "Come Sunday" is the second gospel collaboration between Jones and Haden. It was recorded a few months before Jones died and it's transfixingly effortless music, a conversation between masters, built around these solid reassuring melodies they've heard and likely played for decades.


MOON: Sometimes, jazz improvisation has a muscle flexing, look-what-I-can-do aspect. Not this music. Jones and Haden are long past the point of trying to impress anybody. As they shut out the chatter of the modern world, the two go searching for a higher truth, a moment's peace. In these sturdy old songs of faith, they find it.


BLOCK: The latest album from Hank Jones and Charlie Haden is called "Come Sunday" and the new album from Don Byron is called "Love, Peace and Soul." Our reviewer is Tom Moon and you can hear more examples of gospel-inspired jazz at NPRMusic.org.

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