James Weidman, Spiritual Impressions

by Constance Tucker

A splendidly conceived and developed album by a pianist that knows jazz and spirituals, combined with a vocalist that knows how to sing different styles. The title of the album is, Spiritual Impressions on Inner Circle Music, featuring James Weidman and Ruth Naomi Floyd as the spearhead force behind the album. Joining them are: Anthony Nelson on soprano and tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, Harvie S on acoustic and electric bass and Vince Ector on drums, djembe, and sangba. Great singers are used to getting called on to sing a wide variety of styles, but only a handful can really cover them all effectively, and Floyd is certainly up to the task on Spiritual Impressions. She’s just as comfortable fronting the quartet on a funky version of a spiritual as she is with classic swing and Latin feels. Weidman’s arrangements of the eleven tracks is the key to the intensity, a mix of iconic and lesser known spirituals from across the decades. The playing on the album brings a fresh newly reopened and remodeled sound to the tunes and is very effective date overall.

Weidman’s music fits into the modern mainstream of jazz without being predictable. The opening track makes that clear from the downbeat. The sonics on the track, “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” matches the unaffected, raw power of the spiritual. Opening with a funky groove by S’ big bass sound propelled by Ector’s kit, the arrangement flows to a well-orchestrated piano and saxophone melody that introduces Floyd’s big warm toned vocals. Weidman’s arrangement keeps things uncluttered as Floyd sings the melody. Her pitch is spot on and her range is excellent. Her time digs into the pulse, whether it be straight eight and funky or swinging hard, and this band does swing hard a factor not to be missed! Weidman’s solo is spectacular, melodic and full of energy, deeply rooted in the blues and jazz tradition. One can instantly hear why he has filled the piano chair with artist such as: Abbey Lincoln, Cassandra Wilson, Steve Coleman to Kevin Mahogany and the Grammy nominated Joe Lovano Us Five. Nelson’s solo follows with all the same qualities and together the band swings! A simply great selection and a wonderful example of how a spiritual can be used a spring board for beautiful singing and playing in the jazz tradition.

“Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” starts with Weidman playing the hippest piano intro you will ever hear! His feel is perfect, and the combination of left hand and right-hand figures fill the space. Floyd’s approach to the melody, which is taken at a fairly-brisk pace, but she keeps the diction clean and easy to hear. Again, her range is excellent as well as her pitch and time. She brings a coy blues rusticity to the narrative to carry the vintage melody into the modern era. The arrangement is outstanding and brings the narrative into the modern sound palate with style, clarity and class. In a sense, it’s the key to the album: that and the bands rhythm feel.

When one thinks of spirituals, great singing always comes to mind. Spiritual Impressions offers this aspect, plus an added benefit of an outstanding band. Together they shift from swing to emotional filled performances with ease and confidence. Floyd’s voice has moments of rising from pensive introspection to a full-throttle wail and back. Her dynamic, but never too dramatic delivery, is full of jazz colorizations. Additionally, Weidman’s playing and arrangements make this album remarkably special and a must have for anyone who loves jazz, spirituals and great music!

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