Kirk Whalum
Hymns In The Garden

Saxophonist Kirk Whalum is one of those musicians who is not only a fine session musician, but a solo player in his own right. Coming off his acclaimed Gospel According to Jazz project, Hymns In The Garden is a follow-up of sorts, and comes with his own admission that: "this album is my favorite of all that I've done in 10 solo projects."

Hymns In The Garden CDThere are no vocals included this time out. Whalum lets his saxophone handle all the melodic praise, and it’s enough.

Joining with John Stoddart on production, he handles alto, tenor and soprano versions of his instrument, and refreshes the familiar hymns of yore with an approachable jazz stamp.

You know these melodies. Thirteen tracks in total, they range from Dorsey’s “Precious Lord” to the laidback “Fairest Lord Jesus” to that tune often covered in Gospel circles, “I Must Tell Jesus”, which Whalum here fertilizes with a brush of the jazz trio feel.

Pollinating the set are guest players that include Doc Powell on guitar and Jerry Peters with his famed, lush string arrangements. Abandoning the synth and vibraphone effects popular elsewhere, the entire set is pruned to otherwise stick with the basics: bass, percussion and piano. And when Stoddart’s keyboard workings move from the piano to the keyboard, or even to programming, the switch is so unobtrusive that you don’t even notice.

There are so many cuts to put pick. If one had to choose, those that bloom with the lushest foliage are the smoothly melodic treatments of “I Will Trust In The Lord” and “In The Garden”. The fact that these two bookend the track list just makes it more appropriate to declare that everything in between comes up roses as well.

With an appeal to jazz purists, Gospel jazz afficionados and those of us whom simply love Whalum’s spirit and tone, Hymns In The Garden is quite simply another wonderful Gospel instrumental experience.

Producers: Kirk Whalum, John Stoddart
album release date: May, 2000
Top Drawer Records

— reviewed by Stan North

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