This is a liturgical re-creation of Jazz Vespers, and it might have well been commemorated as pure evensong in the sanctity of a monastery – or more appropriately at St. Peter’s Church in NYC. Ike Sturm’s sincere attention to detail here is a much needed breath of fresh air. If we are to thoroughly enjoy it as I experimented when I listened to it for the second time, we must dim the lights and feel the full effect of this ethereal, spiritually orientated jazz music, these Jazz Vespers. This mixture of instrumental and three part vocal-harmony follows a plausible liturgical sequence and is exquisitely arranged. You can also almost follow it with any Simple Prayer Book in a church of your choice. You can also do so by shutting your eyes and almost hear the tolling of bells!
Ike Sturm and Evergreen, which is the name of this young and ever-so-talented Director of Music at St. Peter’s Church, NYC, presents Shelter of Trees as a musical metaphor for the omnipresent and all-encompassing love of The Divine. The consort voices of Misty Ann Sturm, Melissa Stylianou and Chanda Rule, choral reinforcements and instrumental players interweave seamlessly in ten featured pieces that form a cultivated examination of the hitherto neglected composer – Ike Sturm’s – merits. His impeccable delivery of the extra-special crunch moments provides plenty of points to knock your socks off, especially during the ‘entry prayer Rejoice, the Sanctus and the final doxology of Psalm 23. All of this might be based on Lutheran liturgy, but for a Catholic like me, I was struck by the joy of it all and could almost relate to parts of it as belonging to the Roman Catholic Mass service especially at the beginning of the disc which sings praises of the Divine almost identical to the Gloria In Excelsis Deo.
I am mildly sceptical of putting the sacred and the profane – spiritual and jazz – together but to the extent that the blues, which begat jazz, is a cry out to the Lord for salvation, I can accept the whole concept of Jazz Vespers. This recording, thanks to the unique genius of the young Ike Sturm, exemplifies the cry out to the Lord and thus to that extent works brilliantly as the unique fusion of jazz and evensong. And regardless of editorial polemics and expecting the unexpected here I can thoroughly relish this group and its gutsy soloists – none more thrillingly than the sanctified voices of Misty Ann Sturm, Melissa Stylianou and Chanda Rule. The pristine beauty and purity, the operatic splendour and aria-like delivery together with the sudden arrival of tutti block chords from vibraphone and bass, and the harmonisations of the rest of the instrumental accompaniment refrains together with the Alleluia refrains of the choristers convey ardent directness.
This glorious music is missing just one thing: printed musical notation and the words to key elements of the sung liturgy. This might have increased the experience of this musical excursion manifold. Still, I hope that the performances of the protagonists led by the ingenious efforts of Ike Sturm attract plenty more attention for this is a truly fine disc under any circumstance musical or otherwise. Bravo!
Track List: Rejoice; River; Origins; Turning Point; Shelter of Trees; Guide; Renew; Sanctus; Family; Psalm 23.
Personnel: Misty Ann Sturm: voice; Chanda Rule: voice; Melissa Stylianou: voice; Loren Stillman: alto saxophone; Fabian Almazan: piano; Chris Dingman: vibraphone; Jesse Lewis: guitar; Ike Sturm: basses; Jared Schonig: drums.
About Ike Sturm
Ike Sturm was raised in a musical home in Wisconsin, learning from his father, renowned composer and arranger, Fred Sturm. A professional bassist, Ike has performed with many gifted musicians including Gene Bertoncini, Wynton Marsalis, Donny McCaslin, Bobby McFerrin, Ben Monder, Ingrid Jensen, Steve Lehman, Maria Schneider and Kenny Wheeler. He has played on four Downbeat award-winning recordings, as well as several Steve Reich releases on Cantaloupe and Nonesuch Records. He has appeared with the International Contemporary Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound and Signal, and plays regularly with many creative bands. Read more…