Jazzblog.ca – Ottawa Citizen
By far the most religious and ambitious of this batch is bassist/composer Ike Sturm’s JazzMass, an hour-long suite that involves a choir, a string orchestra, and some A-list New York jazz players. Rather than Christmas jazz, it is Christian jazz. Sturm, is the musical director at Saint Peter’s Church, the spiritual home for New York’s jazz community which over the years has staged memorial services for greats such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. He’s enlisted the likes of saxophonists Loren Stillman and Donny McCaslin, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Adam Benjamin, guitarist Ryan Ferreira, and drummer Ted Poor to help bring his stirring, majestic music to life. Also playing a key role onJazzMass is Sturm’s wife, the classical soprano Misty Ann Sturm.
The soaring quality of Sturm’s disc and its wide embrace of classical, pop, Americana and jazz influences make me think of the Maria Schneider Orchestra (the presences of McCaslin and Jensen help too in this regard). Like Schneider, Sturm has been able to draw passonate performances from his musicians with his compelling material. McCaslin, whom I think of as an especialy spiritually motivated jazzman, plays with passion on Gloria, and the disc’s closing track, Shine. Alto saxophonist Stillman’s playing is a bit of a revelation. While on his own projects Stillman’s writing and playing tends to be more cryptic and even quirky, his playing on the more direct material of JazzMass is joyous. He and pianist Benjamin unleash torrents of melody on Sanctus. There are tracks without any instrumental soloing, and they are just as important to the larger narrative of Sturm’s disc. Thanksgiving is a shimmering, pulsating evocation for strings, not unlike the the two tracks that conclude Brian Blade’s deeply spiritual disc Mama Rosa. After a short introduction by McCaslin, Sturm and Poor, Our Father is a waltzing prayer for jazz choir.
Rich, complex and tremendously committed, JazzMass is a disc that I would play year-round, not just at Christmas.
- Peter Hum, Jazzblog.ca