As thousands flock to the nation’s Capitol to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the memories and music of such a pivotal point in America’s history will be remembered. Yet while those memories and the spirituals sang on August 28, 1963 reflect upon a previous time, the traditional spiritual has been reborn – much like the reprisal of the March’s events that will occur on Saturday and Wednesday.
Grammy nominated pianist, conductor and composer Damien Sneed and world-renowned operatic tenor Lawrence Brownlee teamed up in the same spirit to produce Spiritual Sketches — a complete renaissance of the traditional gospel spiritual.
The album, released through LeChateau Earl Records, blends gospel, classical and jazz elements. The songs pull from the historical legacies of composers such as Harry T. Burleigh, Hall Johnson, Margaret Bonds and Moses Hogan while including elements of American jazz music and gospel music from the African-American church experience.
The album is not only a re-imaging of a traditional art form, it also speaks to the struggles and triumphs in American history. Legendary jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis said Sneed and Brownlee’s work on Spiritual Sketches makes ‘a contemporary statement on the timelessness of the African-American spirituals.’
“They each bring a particular nuance and understanding of the depth and profundity of that experience to a diverse and exciting reading of these materials,” Marsalis said of the project. “Lawrence’s virtuosity is obvious … Damien plays a variety of modes, grooves and settings that speak to the depth of his understanding of Afro-American music and the richness of what was developed in America – it’s uplifting.”
The album features fresh arrangements of “Every Time I Feel The Spirit,” “Deep River,” “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” “Sinner Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass,” “Down By The Riverside,” “Soon I Will Be Done,” “There Is A Balm In Gilead,” “Come By Here,” “Here’s One” and “All Night, All Day.”
“All Night, All Day” has made its mark as the standout among the compilation of 10 traditional spirituals. The song has been met with standing ovations at each performance and the New York Times called the arrangement “striking” – a testament to its brilliance.
Upon hearing “All Night, All Day” octogenarian Rev. Clay Evans, founding pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Chicago, was moved to tears.
“Hearing Lawrence Brownlee and Damien (Sneed) capture the very essensce of ‘All Night, All Day’ – my personal favorite, ‘Motherless Child’ and ‘Down By the Riverside’ brings back so many precious memories of being a part of the movement,” Evans said. “We were in the trenches and many days and nights, we marched and we prayed and we shed many tears, our only anchor was the assurance in knowing that God was on our side and there were angels watching over us. The music of the movement comforted us during sleepless nights.”
Sneed said, “This project has really been a labor of love. We blended several elements of American jazz music and gospel music from the African-American church experience. My hope is that these arrangements expand the listening audience of this art form while simultaneously bringing attention to its rich heritage.”
Download the songs on iTunes, Amazon or CD Baby. Take a listen to the tunes at lechateauearl.com.
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