“Welcome. I am Ha Satan, also known as The Adversary. I’m here to guide you through a story of a man named Job…who got caught in the middle of a bet between me and my old friend, God.” introduces the richly-munchies-inducing-voiced narrator Daniel Breaker, Broadway star of Hamilton & Shrek The Musical (Donkey).
‘Job’s Trials’ is fundamentally a jazz oratorio with the text from pivotal moments of the Book of Job set to original music written by bassist Loomis and performed by him, Jeff Mills (guitar), Jared Schonig (drums) and the expressive, layered voices of Yoon Sun Choi and Song Yi Jeon. It also includes Coltrane’s ‘Dear Lord’ and 7 ‘Satan’ interludes read by Breaker accompanied by musical backing.
Errr…OK. So, I might have a problem. Not only is this a “concept album” (be careful, now); with a narrator (it’ll need to compete with Orson Welles on Manowar’s Defender, then); but its concept is drawn from an Old Testament story too (and it’s NOT Genesis, you hopeful progheadz). That combo is not something that would ordinarily float my Noah’s ark but as Dan Loomis has been editing, workshopping, performing and evolving this piece for almost 10 years it would be foolish of me not to open my ears/mind/heart and give it rightful due respect.
Ha Satan bets God that Job won’t keep his faith; if pushed hard he WILL break. Loomis kicks off ‘Abundance Overture’ with a playfully energetic, lyrical prance before some dulcet folk-jazz scatting and Mills’ thousand dancing arpeggios that happily wink at John Scofield.
Ha Satan destroys all that Job treasures. Job responds “the Lord has given and the Lord has taken away”. Round one to Job. ‘Naked Return’ is Mills’s morse code string-pulling, Schonig’s metronomic beats and ascending sheets of voices leading to a wailing-in-tongues cacophony.
Job is afflicted by plague boils, his wife suggests he should curse God. He’s desperately unhappy but resolved. ‘Do Not Cover My Blood’ is a captivating, slow, emotionally swollen piece with thrilling, passionate vocals volant and a gorgeous, unhurried Loomis solo.
Job’s friends now tell him he deserves to suffer. Job really does need the patience of Job. ‘Job’s Blues’ detail his friend’s unsupportive chatter over a busy, fluid guitar strumfest before being silenced by Mills’s charmingly vocal and intelligently paced and structured solo.
Job’s at the edge. He wants an audience with God himself to discuss his suffering vs his faith. ‘Consider This A Higher Power’ has an easy groove with Yoon Sun Choi and Song Yi Jeon trading lines and effortlessly harmonising. Schonig and Loomis purposefully create an inviting space for more of Mills’s eloquence.
God’s a bit offended by Job’s disrespectful challenge asking “Do you know where the light comes from? Can you show the darkness the way home?”. ‘Words Without Knowledge’ is initially a Schonig driven rock piece that pedals and climbs until falling away into a voluble Loomis solo and God’s questioning of Job.
God forgives Job’s impudence and suggests he might well have a point, leaving Ha Satan a bit confused as to whether he’s won his bet or not! ‘Dear Lord’ is acknowledgement and resolution. Gracious and mollifying, Loomis, Mills and Schonig act as seemingly simple succour to the bewitching vocal questions and answers.
As previously stated, I felt a bit like Daniel fearfully entering the concept-album den when I first heard about ‘Job’s Trials’. I was concerned that I might end up artlessly, ignorantly sniggering at a much less self-aware AD/BC musical. Charmingly, I found the den to be snigger-free, warm, enchanting and blessed with empathetic, gifted musicianship. Loomis and Schonig are consistently excellent in their lyrical creativity while creating space for the sweet, perceptive, charismatic Mills and the often soaring, always engaging, vocal duo of Yoon Sun Choi and Song Yi Jeon. And Daniel Breaker is authoritative velvet. Who needs Orson Welles.