VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Amazing Grace Mixtape”
When it comes to legend and lore mixed with religion in popular culture, there is no story more mythic than “Amazing Grace.” As is usually the case with legends, facts are freely mixed with speculation and passed on as history. The lyrics to “Amazing Grace” are credited to John Newton, who was born in London in 1725 and served as the captain of a slave ship. The claim is he wrote the song of praise to God as a result of surviving a tumultuous storm on a return-home journey. After Newton retired from the sea in 1755, he became an evangelical lay minister. In 1764 he was appointed curate of the parish of Olney, Buckinghamshire and also ordained in the Church of England. Around 1767 the poet William Cowper migrated to the parish and became friends with Newton. They wrote hundreds of new hymns for the weekly religious services and collaborated to produce several editions of Olney Hymns, the first edition of which in 1779 contained over two hundred hymns by Newton. Scholars speculate that the lyrics for "Amazing Grace" were written sometime in the 1770’s and was originally titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation” whose opening stanza started with the words “amazing grace.” Newton was not a musical composer and the origin of the melody is unknown. The three most prominent guesses about the music’s origins are 1. West Africa, 2. African-American folk culture and 3. Celtic and/or Scottish culture. The common thread in all three is the use of the pentatonic musical scale, hence both bagpipes and Negro spirituals. The song was first recorded on Brunswick Records in 1922 and became popular partly as a result of the African-American singing preacher Reverend J. M. Gates. Go here to see a video performance featuring Wintley Phipps giving both a short synopsis of the song’s history and a stirring, melodramatic rendition of “Amazing Grace.” In 2006 Michael Apted directed a bio-pic on the British anti-slavery movement, focusing on the 18th century abolitionist William Wilberforce. Amazing Grace the movie features Albert Finney as John Newton. The movie also featured Youssou N’Dour as Olaudah Equiano, a famed former slave and African author who was a noted chronicler of slave life an ardent abolitionist who was very influential in the eventually successful British anti-slavery movement. Published in 1789 and a best-seller that went through numerous editions, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African is considered a major success both as literature and as political polemic. As we say in New Orleans, there are “beaucoup” versions of the song. I’ve chosen eighteen versions by seventeen groups or individuals (one singer has two versions). Fitting for a year-end wrap-up, the Amazing Grace Mixtape is an hour, forty minutes long and the most ambitious survey BoL has produced. Enjoy.
In 2000 we [bassist Kilian Foster and pianist Tobias Foster] founded, together with the wonderful drummer Tim Hahn, the Klazz Brothers. The name comes from the German words “Kla(ssik)” and “(Ja)zz.” As I was principal bass player of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra and leader of the Dresden Philharmonic Jazz Orchestra, Tobias and Tim joined the philharmonic in the same year for a Cuban tour of the orchestra. There we played a concert together with the Cuban Havana Ensemble at the Amadeo Roldan Theater. We didn’t know much about Cuban music and the Cubans didn’t know much about classical music but we improvised for two hours on jazz standards and classical music. It was a great success and we were overwhelmed by the power and virtuosity of the Cuban percussionists Alexis Herrera Estevez and Elio Rodriguez Luis. So we invited them for some concerts in Germany. Every year we have had more and more concerts, and with six recordings for Sony Classical they are on tour for around 10 months a year away from their families in Cuba. —Kilian ForsterEdson Cordeiro, born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1967, is a classical sopranist countertenor (male soprano), and a pop and jazz singer. After his first European tour in 1995, he became a major success in Germany, where he remains a popular performer. 6. World Saxophone Quartet – Moving Right Along This version of the genre-establishing World Saxophone Quartet features founders David Murray (tenor), Oliver Lake (alto), Hamiet Blueitt (baritone), along with new member Eric Person (alto). Founded in 1976 when Edward Jordan, chair of the Southern University in New Orleans music department invited the four original members (Murray, Lake, Blueitt and Julius Hemphill) to give a series of workshops and performances, the WSQ is the longest lasting ensemble in modern jazz, easily eclipsing the longevity of the iconic Modern Jazz Quartet. 7. Soweto Gospel Choir – Live at the Nelson Mandela Theatre Back in South Africa we have a sound that is both familiar and different in the context of black music, which is generally understood as the musics originally produced by and out of the African diaspora and urban Africa, gospel being one of the major forms. Most of us think of gospel solely as African American without realizing that the same ingredients (Protestant hymals mixed with black-based urban music) also has its own manifestation in South Africa. This is a fascinating subject in itself but for now the focus is on this extraordinary outpouring from the two-time Grammy winning Soweto Gospel Choir. 8. Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra – Not In Our Name Bass player Charlie Haden first made his mark holding down the bottom in the famed Ornette Coleman quartet of the early sixties. Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra total repertoire is music associated with struggles for liberation and human rights. LMO is a jazz ensemble with a political purpose, a fabulous mix of aesthetics and politics. 9. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – The Complete Sister Rosetta Tharpe (out of print) Many of the great musical innovators from the thirties, forties and early fifties are overlooked today because they weren’t part of the television generation that grew up with the fifties and resultantly people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe are virtually invisible to us today but these artists laid down the foundation for modern black music. In addition to her entertainment prowess, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was very much a conscious artist who promoted gospel music all her life. She was born in Arkansas in 1921 and died in Philadelphia in 1973. 10. Blind Boys of Alabama – Retrospective There is nothing “pretty” about the way these brothers throw down the double-halleluja, holy shout. They are beyond possessed. I know somebody is saying: where’s the melody? Well, to paraphrase Mr. Hathaway: it’s in there crying like a baby and moaning like a bloodhound at the new risen moon. 11. Jesse Fuller – Frisco Bound This blues musician and one man band (get a load of his set-up) offers up a version that’s older than the commonly recognized melody. Kind of gives you a flavor of the (possible) African roots of the song. 12. Mississippi Fred McDowell – Amazing Grace We wrote about this a short while back. Go here to read it. 13. Archie Shepp & Horace Parlan – Goin’ Home You’ll notice that a lot of the jazz instrumentals are just as moving as the vocal versions. Hear avant-gardist supremist, saxophonist Archie Shepp come in from the cold and give us a succinct, supple and subtle essay on spiritual longing characterized by warm, Ben Webster-ish low notes and Shepp’s trademark hoarse tenor saxophone preaching. This recording is one of the great achievements in the plethora of Shepp recordings. Pianist Horace Parlan demonstrates his accompaniment skills in holding up his end of this duo recording. Parlan expertly walks the tightrope of supporting Shepp's lead voice while keeping the background interesting. As a result of a childhood bout with polio, Parlan's right hand is partially paralyzed—amazingly he went on to become a major jazz pianist and distinctive stylist. 14. Aaron Neville – Vienna Jazz Fest 2006 (bootleg) New Orleans in the house again. First we did an instrumental from the Dirty Dozen and now Aaron drops one of his ethereal gifts from the spiritual ionsphere. 15. Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace The absolute gold standard of modern gospel recordings—make sure you get the deluxe version that offers all of the two nights of music. Enough said. 16. BeBe Winans – Live And Up Close There’s a Detroit connection going here, however I do not mean to suggest that BeBe is in the same league as sister Re but his modern contemporary gospel is an attractive take on the old standard. 17. Wycliffe Gordon – Slidin Home Another wonderful jazz instrumental. When jazz started, the trombone was one of the main instruments but once bebop hit, the trombone lost favor. Here’s a young cat who is bringing back the bone with a vengeance, especially the use of plunger mutes. 18. Cassandra Wilson – Dance to the Drums Again Easily the most soothing voice in jazz. There is this sensual undercurrent to all of the spiritual overtones, which all mix together into a positively captivating performance that just makes me melt every time I hear it. It’s all those husky low notes that reach down and make your toenails vibrate. Damn! I mean, Heaven! No, what I really mean is life, the great goodness of life celebrated in music. Amazing. The great goodness of life. 19. Ernestine Deane – Moment in Capetown (field recording - 2002) Ernestine opened up the services and she offers a beautiful benediction.
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