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.
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
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.