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HOW SWEET THE SOUND. Spirituals and Traditional Gospel Music
All arrangements by Joseph Jennings
L. V. McCULLUM Jesus hits like an atom bomb [3’18”]
W. H. BREWSTER Sr. Surely God is able* [3’48”]
Traditional Amazing Grace* [7’26”]; Soon One Mornin’ Medley [10’17”]; (Soon One Mornin’; What You Gon’ Do When the World’s on Fire; You Can’t Hide; Run on for a Long Time); Didn’t It Rain* [3’27”]; Sit down Servant / Plenty Good Room [7’00”]; Keep Your Hand on the Plough (Hold On) [3’40”]; My Soul is a Witness* [5’38”]; There is a Balm in Gilead* [4’57”]; Poor Pilgrim Medley [10’25”] (Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow; Walk in Jerusalem)
Joseph JENNINGS Be Still and Know that I’m God* [8’41”]
*Bishop Yvette A. Flunder (singer)
Chanticleer/Joseph Jennings
Recorded in St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco, California, June 2003
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 60309-2 [68’39”]



 

For their latest disc the expert American male vocal ensemble, Chanticleer, turn their attention to the rich heritage of American Spirituals and Gospel Music. The group’s singing is as excellent as on every other disc of theirs that I’ve heard. As usual, tuning, blend and rhythmic precision is flawless and some of the vocal dexterity on display here is truly astonishing. The arrangements by their director, Joseph Jennings, are skilful, varied and enterprising though there were a couple of occasions when I did wonder if the arrangements were so sophisticated as to overwhelm the essentially simple, direct music which is at the root of the Gospel/Spiritual tradition.

Chanticleer are joined in several of the tracks by the Gospel singer, Bishop Yvette A. Flunder. It is clear from her biography that she is an extremely committed and charismatic lady and the same is true of her singing. In one or two numbers I felt that she was just too much of a good thing. This is particularly true of Amazing Grace, taken at a very slow tempo indeed and of which she makes far too much of a meal for my taste. On the other hand, she leads a storming account of My Soul is a Witness. Here, if I may say so, she really is “hot”. The same is true of Didn’t it Rain, which is sung with explosive exuberance by all concerned. There’s an amazing variety of vocal effects in Chanticleer’s backing for the soloist in this number but this was one occasion when I felt the arrangement was just too elaborate.

Yvette Flunder’s style and vocal sound is something with which many listeners, like me, will be unfamiliar. It does take some getting used to but it is worth persevering for she is undoubtedly expressive and sincere. At her best she is vividly communicative and she illustrates how close this music is to the blues. The stand-out item for me is There is a Balm in Gilead which is deeply affecting. I must say that I think in part that this may be because the arrangement of this number is the simplest on the disc. The music is allowed to speak for itself and does so to great effect.

Chanticleer support their guest soloists superbly. When they sing on their own they are just as fine. They display stunning vocal virtuosity in the Soon One Mornin’ medley.  At times in this medley there is what I would describe as a “refined rawness” to the singing (which is wholly appropriate) and their rhythmic precision is amazing. The emotion runs very high in the desperate sadness of Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child and similarly in Poor Pilgrim (which features an astonishing male soprano solo). Throughout the programme there are some tremendous solos from individual members of the group. I’d single out for special mention the searing alto soloist in Keep Your Hand on the Plough who displays an amazing range.

This is another fine CD from Chanticleer. It’s one to dip into, I think, rather than to listen to straight through. Whilst some of the arrangements are a bit too elaborate there’s no denying that they make an impact and Chanticleer’s performances are first rate as usual.

The documentation consists of two essays. One, by Jennings himself, deals with the subject of spirituals and is useful and informative. The other, by Anthony Heilbut, covers Gospel music. There is some useful information here too but to my taste Mr. Heilbut’s style is rather too complex and, in discussing Chanticleer’s performances, too fulsome. His contribution is not an easy read. Both notes are in English only. Regrettably, the texts are not included. They can be accessed via the Warner Classics website but I always think this is an inconvenient and second-best offering. The recorded sound is excellent.

An interesting and rather different CD, which will be self-recommending to admirers of Chanticleer. The general collector will also find much to enjoy.

John Quinn



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