The Worship Project
Many familiar with jazz icon Kirk Whalum will be familiar with Jonathan Butler's work on his Gospel According To Jazz, Chapter II project, a highlight of which was his rendering of his own original, "Falling In Love With Jesus" (see album review).
Others will no doubt know this veteran South African reared artist for well-received pop-jazz offerings over the years, for his combination of inviting acoustic guitar with warm vocals, and for his undeniable appeal, if you've ever seen him perform live (or on DVD).
The Worship Project, on Maranatha Records is Butler's first all-Gospel set. It's a glorious collection of praise material that begins with a world-beat interpretation (percussion and guitar) of "You're Worthy Of My Praise", the familiar song from David Ruis that opens with the lyrics, "I will worship, with all of my heart".
From there, the project unfolds into a festival of praise, with both originals (Butler wrote 8 of the album's 12 songs), and popular worship choruses. With guitar in hand and his unstrained vocal style, Butler is accompanied by a select few sidemen and backing vocalists, all of whom sensitively melt into the aural backdrop of the twelve-song set.
Butler has a capacity for simple and elegant songwriting, which he shows on songs like "He Is The Lord" and "Don't Worry" and "When We Pray". On "It's Already There", Butler moves away from his easy grooves and demonstrates his capacity as balladeer, accompanied by cello. All of these songs are evident heart expressions from an artist whose vocal tenderness is as exquisite as his guitar fingerwork.
The mixing in of favorites such as "I Lift Your Name On High" and Lenny LeBlanc's "No Higher Calling", both dipped in Butler's soulful and unplugged style,serve to impart an extra dose of comfort and familiarity to the project.
Also on the album is "Falling In Love With Jesus", the aforementioned song featured on Whalum's project. In bringing it back into play here, Butler imparts a slightly more acoustic spin to it, making it fit nicely into the overall timbre of his album.
Other cuts worthy of iPOD entry are the rhythmic "No Matter What" and the delicate treatment of "You Are So Beautiful".
The Worship Project is a long-awaited, full-fledged Gospel entry by Jonathan Butler. And for those who are only now being made aware of this fine artist, it's a superb introduction.
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— reviewed by Stan North —
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