The blending of Western European harmony as emphasized by the Christian church with African American rhythms and “blue” notes created the music we know and love as jazz. However, the alliance between the cathedral and the juke joint has been an uneasy one. Few true religious jazz works have been composed, although those that have been created have been written by giants such as Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Bassist Ike Sturm is the music director for Jazz Ministry at Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan – a church long known for its support of jazz music. He recently was commissioned by the church to compose a Jazz Mass for a superb15-voice choir (including Wisconsin’s own Janet Planet), string orchestra and jazz septet. The result is this stunning work.

While not myself a member of a Catholic Church, I have attended services and have been impressed with the power imparted by the shimmering choral presentations that have endured for centuries. Sturm retains this as a basis (admittedly, I am not sure how closely this follows an actual mass format), while bringing the jazz element into bear in a seamless manner. Just as a few examples, “Gloria” features African-flavored guitar, “Thanksgiving” highly-effected electric guitar (ala Robert Fripp), while public-domain hymn “Just As I Am” (arranged by Sturm) adds a haunting almost screaming saxophone solo and string swells, and “Sanctus” breaks suddenly into a jazz piano solo. Led by wife Misty Ann Sturm’s lovely vocals and her husband on bass, the septet features Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ryan Ferreira on guitar, Adam Benjamin on acoustic and electric pianos, Ted Poor on drums and Loren Stillman on alto sax. The compositions are deceptively clean and simple, allowing the melodies to maintain their central focus within the framework. A work of depth expressing love, peace and spirituality – a rarity (unfortunately) in this or any time.

- Brad Walseth,

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AuthorPhil Price