Kirk Whalum - The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III

Kirk Whalum
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On the third installment of smooth jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum's The Gospel According To Jazz series, it's strictly a family affair, but one that includes - not excludes - listeners. Kirk, Kyle, Kevin, Kenneth and Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum are certainly all present on a recording dedicated to the memory of Kirk Whalum's father, the Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Sr., whose homegoing occurred two years before this live concert set was completed. Still, there are more than blood relations on this stunningly fresh project: surrogate family overflow with A-list jazz performers on its double-disc offerings, including Lalah Hathaway, Doc Powell, and George Duke. For all its family reunion feel, what is most heartening about The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III is how Whalum's song selections invites listeners of all faiths to sit down and be family too.
On the third installment of smooth jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum's The Gospel According To Jazz series, it's strictly a family affair, but one that includes - not excludes - listeners. Kirk, Kyle, Kevin, Kenneth and Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum are certainly all present on a recording dedicated to the memory of Kirk Whalum's father, the Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Sr., whose homegoing occurred two years before this live concert set was completed. Still, there are more than blood relations on this stunningly fresh project: surrogate family overflow with A-list jazz performers on its double-disc offerings, including Lalah Hathaway, Doc Powell, and George Duke. For all its family reunion feel, what is most heartening about The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III is how Whalum's song selections invites listeners of all faiths to sit down and be family too. With familiar and rare covers interspersed with original material, Whalum broadens the scope of what gospel can be, making this chapter the most accessible in his fusion gospel series to-date.

On The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III, Kirk Whalum and his ferocious band launch a wholesale takeover of several secular hits, transforming them into worthy offerings for Christ. Pianist George Duke's ingenious blending of classical, jazz, and gospel sweeps Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" up to the heavens by its thunderously exultant peak and then angelically floats down on Whalum's comforting sax, propelling a roaring crowd to their feet. Thanks to a funky, nickel-tight rhythm section, Frankie Beverly & Maze has rarely been covered so well as Whalum and crew do on their re-interpretation of "Running Away," where the running is from God's love and will. Vocalist Kevin Whalum's swinging croon with Sean McCurly's and Lenny Castro's popping percussions on the bossa nova-dusted "If You Ever Need Me" enliven John Stoddart's composition with a Caribbean Carnival air.

There are plenty of rare air breathers among Kirk Whalum's heavy-hitting guest list of contributors. On "Africa, Jesus, Africa" featuring George Duke and Caleb the Bridge, it's nice to hear a non-stereotypical musical love letter to Africa. Incorporating chanting, rap and jazz, the groove song's heart is as open as a Kenyan terrain. Absent Thom Bell and Linda Creed's romantic lyrics on the Stylistics' "You Are Everything," featured guitarist Doc Powell (Luther Vandross) and Whalum do some heavy lifting to sell their re-imagined version of the Philly hit as a moment of worship, but their combustible combination seals the deal. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the project is hearing Bishop T.D. Jakes and his wife Serita deliver their version of Barry White and Glodean on the "You Are Everything" reprise. Set against Take 6 flavored doo wop harmonies, the Jakes refreshingly speak of covenant love in the most seductive of tones imaginable...those far from the pulpit, but at the heart of marriage.

Almost more than Whalum's sure and consistent performance throughout The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III is Lalah Hathaway's four elegant performances on this live concert experience. On the languid feather bed ballad "It's What I Do," Lalah loftily takes on the role of God in explaining God's perfect love. Hathaway, playing comfortably in the basement of her range, at times stunningly channels her legendary father's tone and phrasing on the B.B. King classic "The Thrill Is Gone," while Whalum shows off something ridiculous against a backdrop of triumphant horns. Lalah is again the highlight on the Kevin Whalum-led duet of Luther Vandross's "Make Me A Believer" classic, despite a competent Whalum's effort to be Will Downing's vocal doppelganger on the cut.  The album's lead single, "He's Been Just That Good," boasts Lalah on the cut, but here she mostly plays support to Kirk Whalum's lead, which starts slow but astonishingly builds to a deliciously satisfying climax with some fantastic licks by vocalist and keyboardist John Stoddart.

Each of the talented Whalum family members do their thing on The Gospel According To Jazz: Chapter III with varying executorial degrees of success, from Kevin's close but too light take on Vandross to bassist Kyle Whalum's shining hour on his co-penned, compositionally complex homage to his dad, the "Rev." Seventy-year old "Hugh "Peanuts" Whalum's Nat King Cole-meets-Betty Carter phrasing and interesting approach to Chaplin's timeless melody's timing graciously recovers from an unsteady beginning in "Smile Pt. 1," thanks to a redemptive and more liberated "Smile Pt. 2." Nontheless, Whalum's elder kin inspirationally proves that a commendable spotlight opportunity can happen at any age. His family's gifts withstanding, throughout these twin recordings it's Kirk Whalum whose growth as a musician and liberated approach to gospel that proves the star time and again on what is perhaps his most compelling fusion of musical ideas and genres since this series began. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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