Friday, November 2, 2012

Pamela York Lay Down This World: Hymns and Spirituals 2012

While reading this I can imagine a secular humanist head literally exploding. For those of you playing at home and perhaps uninitiated, a secular humanist is essentially someone that considers himself a "free thinker" i.e. atheist, agnostic etc. etc. Yet songs concerning hymns and spirituals are the last thing they want you to think about as they hide behind the words "Separation of Church and State" - words that never appear once in our Constitution. I speak of the actual words, not the "Establishment Clause." So as I climb back down off my soap box, Berklee graduate Pamela York drops Lay Down This World on November 13, 2012.  A gorgeous release of inspired hymns and spirituals all laid down with impeccable jazz sensibilities and timing.

Normally rehard drive me nuts, not here. These older classics have been reharmed to a more modern riff on the universal theme that there is a greater good and a greater power that makes all things possible. The ebb and flow here is natural and never forced be it an an ancient Celtic piece such as "Be Thou My Vision" or the stirring spiritual "Deep River." York is an artist of seemingly immense integrity. A visionary that can keep one foot in the past, one in the present while looking to the future with an open artistic heart of where she is as a musician. York's immense talent as a skilled arranger has her transforming many of these time tested standards into her own fresh new compositions.

"A Might Fortress Is Our God" opens the set with a dialed up captivating free flowing harmonic base that is as rich and meaningful as the more traditional arrangements found in most church settings. The beautiful part of the reharm is the melody is never lost but instead like most people the melody develops richness and character over time when ably backed by her "family" being bassist Lynn Seaton, drummer Sebastian Whittaker and special guest trombonist Andre Hayward on tracks 5 and ll. "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" is a rousing swing tune bringing back the bebop sound that has seemingly been tucked away in the cold storage locker for far too long. Trombonist Hayward lets it rip and the deceptively subtle York hangs with him every step and then some a a slight New Orleans style call and response. This is not a version one would expect to hear in the more traditional setting which adds to the excitement and freshness of the sound here. The more reverent "Were You There" is deconstructed and broken down to a more soulful approach starting with the lyrical bass solo from Seaton. Another gem of an arrangement thought through with flawless timing and captivating harmonics. While the "ballad" aspect of the tune remains the lyrical flow is introspective, intimate yet oddly intense with feeling and coming from a pianist with such a deft touch as York this is indeed a think of beauty.

While the music is of course inclusive by nature as opposed to some of the more socio-political releases of the day them seemingly qualify their desired audience based on a myriad of factors, secular humanists heads will pop. Those that believe diversity is a two way street and rights and freedoms of all people can overlap and that is a beautiful thing will find the jazz transcriptions here highly entertaining. The next time you hear a "pop" though you should smile. I will....

Tracks: A Might Fortress Is Our God; I Know That My Redeemer Lives - Glory, Hallelujah; Be Thou My Vision; He leadeth Me; Just A Closer Walk With Thee; Were You There?; I Want Jesus To Walk With Me; My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less; Ain't-A That Good News!; Deep River; Soon I Will Be Done.

Personnel: Pamela York: vocals, piano; Lynn Seaton: bass; Sebastian Whitaker: drums.
Secial Guest Andre Hayward Hayward: trombone (5,11).