Gabrielle Goodman - Spiritual Tapestry

Gabrielle Goodman
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The first thought that entered my mind when I listened to Spiritual Tapestry, the latest project by jazz, R&B, classical and gospel vocalist Gabrielle Goodman, was the timelessness of these songs that were created by bonded men and women whose names have been lost to history. We have been singing “Motherless Child,” “Swing Low,” “Steal Away,” “Heaven Heaven” and the others songs on this album for nearly 200 years. These folk songs will still be sung hundreds of years into the future when many of the popular songs of our day will be forgotten.

The first thought that entered my mind when I listened to Spiritual Tapestry, the latest project by jazz, R&B, classical and gospel vocalist Gabrielle Goodman, was the timelessness of these songs that were created by bonded men and women whose names have been lost to history. We have been singing “Motherless Child,” “Swing Low,” “Steal Away,” “Heaven Heaven” and the others songs on this album for nearly 200 years. These folk songs will still be sung hundreds of years into the future when many of the popular songs of our day will be forgotten.

The eloquence and power of the words of these songs stand as a rebuke to the slaveholders who denied the humanity of the enslaved millions even as they employed these songs to transform God as a god of the oppressed and then repurposed them as declarations of spiritual and physical independence. These religious folk songs also span time to correct many of their descendants who unfortunately view the Negro Spirituals and the men and women who created them with shame.

That last point highlights the irony and the brilliance of Goodman’s decision to reinterpret these 12 songs in the jazz idiom. Jazz is widely considered to be America’s classical music, and the genre’s greatest composers and musicians such as Ellington, Monk and Davis are considered by many to be on par with classical composers of Europe.

While taking folk art and moving it into the realm of high art is a form of validation for those folk who believe such validation is necessary, Goodman is also being true to jazz history by doing what artists in the genre have done for years - find tunes from other genres that contain an element of the blues, that have the potential to swing or can provide the platform for some improvisation and repurpose those cuts as jazz tunes.

The 12 tracks featured by Goodman showcase the art form’s adaptability and sturdiness. “Go Down Moses,” has a 1950s era Las Vegas show club vibe, complete with Goodman’s scatting. Goodman introduces “Wade In the Water” with a history lesson backed by a hip-hop beat on the keyboard before sliding into a mid-tempo organ infused soul/jazz feel. The soulful arrangement of “Steal Away” calls to mind The Winans “Ain’t No Need to Worry.” It’s a little slower, but the tune employs the same fusion of R&B and jazz to tell a gospel story.

Goodman imbues “Heaven Heaven” with a New Orleans style shuffle augmented by some deft keyboard work on a tune that is an aspirational story of what the singers will do when they reach Glory, as well as not so subtle warning to their captors that everybody can’t go to Heaven and the slave holders might be in for a rude awakening on that “great gettin’ up morning.”

We Americans constantly search for the next new thing. That is part of our charm. However, that same quality can be a vice when we discard the things of the past without gaining a full appreciation of how those things inform the future. With Spiritual Tapestry, Goodman reminds us that the tree of black music has many branches, but the roots can be found in the music created by those men and women who toiled unknown and uncompensated in the dirt of the American south. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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