Instrumental in Bringing Forth the Gospel

Pioneers in the field of Gospel instrumental include respected keyboard master Hubert Powell, Gospel jazz duo Allen and Allen, and Ben Tankard, who brings production skills as well as keyboard and composition talent to the table. With these Instrumental Pioneer:  Hubert Powellgreats laying down the foundation, other Gospel instrumentalists have been encouraged, and have now begun to step it up so that there’s no longer just a handful to choose from.

However when it comes to prominence and attention, Gospel instrumental projects can often get the short end of the stick. To a large degree, this is due to the rigidity of many Gospel radio formats. With airtime often limited, many announcers find it difficult to slot instrumental music into their rotations, possibly because a lack of lyrics can sometimes fail to identify it as “Gospel music”. As a result, the average listener will more often than not hear the Gospel psalmists being played in the background, maybe underneath interview segments or as commercial interludes.

While the situation may be understandable, it is certainly not desireable. Of course, this sub-genre of Gospel deserves far more than that. Praise to Jesus Christ is not limited to vocal expression. (For that matter, neither is it limited to music.)

While radio may show some reluctance, the music is certainly appreciated in the Gospel community. Yolanda Adams continues to list Kirk Whalum’s astounding Gospel According to Jazz project as one of the CDs that she personally spends time with. EMI Gospel’s Lamar Campbell puts it in perspective, saying that while “there are times when I need the lyrics, Gospel jazz is great for when you just want to chill with songs or hymns that you know in your spirit”.

With the number of instrumental projects increasing over the past year, here is GospelFlava.com’s attempt to shed some more light on psalmist projects. Below is a brief summary of some notable Gospel instrumental projects you can find on the shelves.

Various Artists
Instrumentally Gospel
Meek Records
Summer 1999

Instrumentally Gospel CDDon’t let the generic clip-art trumpets on the CD cover fool you. This offering is a must-have for all advocates of gospel instrumentals, as it features the tighest of Chicago’s Gospel band players, including Bryant Jones, Rev. Wendell Lowe, Jeral Gray, Joey Woolfork and Michael Eason. Recorded live at Chicago’s Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, the disk features 8 cuts of full band (zero vocals) interpretations of traditional numbers such as “He’s A Battle Axe” and “God Will Come Through For You”. Band direction is led by notables such as Cynthia Nunn, Stephan Jones, Kelvin Lennox and Percy Gray.

Jeff Majors
NAS Records / Universal

Instrumentally Gospel CDOn the classical Gospel tip, Jeff Majors’ debut 1998 release, Sacred, still qualifies as one of the most unusual Gospel albums available right now, as it focuses on the classical harp. Although this instrument is far removed from the standard roster of Gospel instruments, the instrument has its Gospel roots reaching as far back as King David. Surely it qualifies! Majors succeeds in imparting a quiet soulfulness to the sound, with backing vocals used sparingly. Strong cuts are “Break Bread” and “Kum Ba Ya”. Here’s more proof that Gospel is more than able to transcend artificial barriers. A sophomore release for Majors is upcoming.

Point of View
Tyscot / UAB Entertainment
Fall, 1998

Instrumentally Gospel CDProduced by Ben Tankard, this Tyscot offering comes from the fertile musical grounds of the University of Alabama’s Birmingham campus. The multi-member band presents a mix of funky jazz Gospel / inspirational interpretations of classic Winans-related tunes such as “Heaven” and “Tomorrow”, as well as several originals. Kelvin Benion, Anthony Howze, Maurice Jones, Jeff Perry, Geoff Sides and Steve Torok make up Tekneek, with Tankard lending keyboard skills on the album. The group performed for hours at the nominee reception banquet at the Stellar Awards in Atlanta in January of 1999.

Mel Holder
Now and Forever: The Continuation
Friends in Fellowship
June, 1999

Instrumentally Gospel CDNew York-based Mel Holder takes all variants of the saxophone to new Gospel heights on Now and Forever: The Continuation. Diversity is the hallmark of the project, with elements of jazz, reggae and South African worldbeat evident. The cuts are rife with guest artists, including fellow jazzmeister and Gospel guitarist Tim Bowman (who has a couple of interesting projects of his own worth checking out on InSync Records). Kelly Price and Jonathan Butler are also featured vocalists, with Price’s “Instrument of Praise” being the standout cut from this CD. Holder’s interpretation of Fred Hammond’s “Glory to Glory to Glory” pulls in as a strong second.

Rob Maletick
Walking the Path
C.A.R. Records

Walking the Path CDSaxophone upstart Rob Maletick comes recommended by fellow instrumentalist, Kirk Whalum. A listen to any one of the eleven tracks on this impressive debut indicates why the accolades have been landing with regularity on this DC native. Although Maletick contributes vocally to a couple of the songs, it is in the masterful windwork of his saxophone jazz ramblings where he truly 'pulls out all the stops'. Tuneful composition and artful arrangements mark the album throughout. The title cut is a smash. (If this release is hard to find in your local store, call the record label directly at 703-855-5799)

— reviewed by Stan North —

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