Gospel Saxophone Albums

Gospel artists with a saxophone emphasis abound, and there’s real diversity to choose from. Masters such as Kirk Whalum are perhaps the first artists to come to mind (see interview), however there are numerous lesser-known names that deserve some attention as well. From freestyle jazz to urban grooves, from quiet storm to soaring hymn covers, check out this selection of Gospel saxophone projects to be found in 2002.

Partners In Christ
The Covenant Project
Two For One Productions
CD Harry Patton and Daryl Beebe are Partners in Christ, saxophonists both, who present a diverse effort titled The Covenant Project. Equal parts vocals and instrumentals (including Desabata Robinson's guitar), these two Detroit-based saxophone afficianodos and vocalists bring thirteen studio-recorded originals to the fore, with cuts such as the urban "I Dream of Heaven", the stacked vocal harmonies of "You Were There" and the complexity of dueling saxes on jazz-based numbers such as "Lift Him Up" and "Precious Lord" more than makes the grade.

Rod Tate
The Secret Place
CD Rod Tate's latest offering is billed as 'instrumental worship'. Titled The Secret Place, the St. Louis native indeed he uses his saxophones with deliberation and skill to praise Jesus in a smooth jazz style. The melody is always front and center on this collection, as Tate ensures that the tune is not forgotten with soaringly smooth approach, embellished by occasional meanderings around the line. Originals such as "The Road To Glory" and the medley "I Love You Lord / I Just Want To Thank You" are strongly meditative, and as is frequent on the project, are accompanied by soft synths and programmed rhythms.

Rob Maletick & James Wigington
The JWRM Project Dreams: Live at the Jammin' Java
CAR Records
CD DC native saxophonist Rob Maletick comes kicking a live project in close collaboration with songwriter/keyboard specialist James "Robbie" Wigington. Recorded at the Jammin' Java Cafe in Vienna, Virginia, this is a jam-crammed, mostly original 10-track set that is marked by a band tightness fused by years of practice, but more imporantly, evident spiritual unity of purpose. Songs such as "Robert's Praise", "Rest of My Life" (with lead vocals from Stevie Tibbs Jr.) and the smooth sax-soaring title track "Dreams" are examples of the diversity of this crew. Ample congas, trumpet, guitar and bass are all over this worthy album.

Tony Smith
Back For More
CD Gospel jazz radio announcer and saxophone artist Tony Smith has released several albums over the years. Back For More is a hymns-only studio-recorded collection with sax forefront and center. Pastor Robert E. Wilson II supports on piano, organ and strings, along with Stephon Henderson and Cheron Wilson on various instruments. Gospel standards such as "Oh Happy Day", "Center of My Joy" and James Cleveland's "God Is" are covered, along with old time hymns such as "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Blessed Assurance". Smith's arrangement of "Wade in the Water" is especially nice.

Montee Jefferson
Sounds From Heaven
Bro-Duncan Records
CD After years of service for artists such as Mary Wells, B.B. King and The Platters, veteran Detroit saxman Montee Jefferson enters with Sounds of Heaven, his first solo effort. Unique for a saxophone project, this album is backed by the chorale sounds of The Johnn Lee Chorale. Very gospel in approach, highlight cuts include a sizzling "Lord, Help Me To Hold Out" and a cover of Donnie McClurkin's "Stand". With frequent mass vocals on the material, it is easy to forget that the 'solo voice' on this recording does not come from human vocal cords, but from Jefferson's ability to make his instrument sing.

Donald Hayes
Quiet Times Vol. 2
Harborwood Records
CD This project that delivers ten hymns and favorites from the church done Donald Hayes’ way is a pure treat. From the hymn standard “Blessed Assurance” to the funky syncopated Walter Hawkins' hit “God Will Take Care of You” Hayes’ splendor is evident on each of the tunes on Quiet Times 2. Click here for the full review of this project from Harborwood Records.

Ron Brown
In The Spirit
Mankind Records
CD In The Spirit is a quiet storm jazz explosion that includes more than several vocal jazz jams, each of them pillared by Ron Brown’s gift for arrangment and songwriting, and anchored by his ability to switch from senstive sax accompaniment to full-blown solo forays. The killer on this project is "I Surrender All". Joining Brown’s alto sax on the set are a veritable dream team of jazz players: Kirk Whalum on tenor sax, Jonathan Butler on guitar, Ronnie Foster on organ and the fabled Bill Maxwell on drums. Click here for the full review of this project from Mankind Records.

John Lytch
Mission 2 Please
SFC Records
CD John Lytch takes a decidedly urban approach to his Gospel saxophone sound, relying on pounding rhythms and killer grooves to deliver his absolute praise to Jesus Christ. On Mission 2 Please, Lytch writes all ten tracks, alternately playing alto, tenor or soprano sax on all of them. He’s joined by Marcus Williams on live drums, Stanley Sullivan and Lonnie Robinson on bass, Bryant Thompson on keys and New Life Community Choir musical director Tim Mole on guitar. Click here for the full review of this project from SFC Records.

— reviewed by Stan North

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