One of my musical highlights from last year was Dwight Trible’s gig with Matthew Halsall & the Gondwana Orchestra at London’s Jazz Cafe. It was a night that will live long in my memory, a complete immersion in spiritual jazz, from the eastern-tinged, instrumental soundscapes of the “When The World Was One” album in the first half, to classics and crowd pleasers like “Wise One”, “John Coltrane”, “The Creator Has a Masterplan” and “I’ve Known Rivers” featuring Dwight on vocals, in the second.
Between both men there seems to be a genuine admiration and respect as well as a lot of shared ground musically. Trible has been criminally under-recorded over the years and it’s clear that in Halsall he has found a kindred spirit.
“Inspirations” brings together 8 songs that have inspired them both, and which are in turn inspiring, sharing in their lyrics uplifting messages of hope, of healing, of spirituality and love, as well as an active awareness of political and social conditions.
Trible makes these songs ring out with emotion, a passion borne out of an unwavering commitment to their lyrics and the message(s) he needs to convey. His energy isn’t driven by anger, but is fuelled by love and given credibility by knowledge and experience. If this makes him sound like a preacher, then I guess that’s because there is a real sense of that running through his performance. His deep, authoritative tones are rooted in gospel, blues, soul and jazz and draw comparison to the likes of Leon Thomas, Andy Bey and Bernard Ighner, but it’s distinctly Dwight Trible in style.
The album opens with the Bacharach and David classic “What The World Needs Now Is Love”, a bright, uptempo number. This track has the Gondwana Orchestra sound, which is not surprising as the band features many of the regular Gondwana cohort. Taz Modi’s distinctive piano, accenting Trible’s vocals, Rachael Gladwin’s sweeping harp and Halsall’s melancholic trumpet solo are all familiar features to those conversant with Halsall’s back catalogue. In fairness, apart from this track the rest of the album feels like it’s Trible’s, for which Halsall, as producer, should take credit.
The core musicians – Modi, Gavin Barras on Bass and Jon Scott on drums – work well in the more traditional jazz trio setting. Halsall pops up from time to time; never the brashest of players, his solos are sympathetic, just enough to remind us he is involved. In this setting Modi’s piano playing comes to the fore, showing his adaptability and confidence. If Halsall’s music is “rain-streaked spiritual Jazz”, then Taz Modi’s rippling piano melodies are the droplets falling from the sky.
The choice of Donny Hathaway/Leroy Hutson’s “Tryin’ Times” goes to show that some messages can resonate through the ages. The same can be said of the powerful spiritual “Deep River”, an expression of sorrow, of the past and of the hope for the future. In the early 20th Century this song was closely associated with the singer Marian Anderson and her own struggles against prejudice. Trible makes these songs personal, none more so than this, the most touching song on the album.
The only song that doesn’t quite work for me is the Cole Porter song “I Love Paris”. This may just be about context – elsewhere Trible sings about issues affecting humanity; broad, important subjects, to the extent that the fluffy subject matter of this song leave me underwhelmed. Perhaps a palate cleanser is what is needed.
Whilst I might have wished for some original music, maybe even a 21st century “Trying’ Times”, “Inspirations” more than delivers as a collaborative endeavour and whets the appetite for more.
Sometimes unexpected pairings of musicians are simply meant to be and thus a chance encounter at a jazz festival in South Africa in 2005 between singer Dwight Trible and trumpeter/label owner Matthew Halsall has resulted in this collaborative effort that is at once a wonderful example of the spiritual jazz sub-genre and a fitting observation on our atomised contemporary society and the fissures that exist globally and nationally.
Stylistically, the Cincinatti born singer owes a debt of gratitude to both Andy Bey and Leon Thomas (minus the yodelling exploits, thankfully), with his bass baritone register, but now based in Los Angeles with a thriving jazz community resident there, he has soaked up influences that range from cult 1970s soul to the continual presence of the Coltrane’s husband and wife, and even drawing upon in parts the spiritual activism of Paul Robeson.
For the former, the soulful composition by Leroy Hutson, ‘Tryin’ Times’, has never sounded as apt for a social commentary and it is the bass line that leads the way and lyrics of the calibre of ‘Folks wouldn’t have to suffer if you had more love for your brother’. Moreover, Trible’s ability to vary the tempo of a standard is illustrated on an infinitely slower rendition of ‘I Love Paris’, which makes for a lovely contrast with Jackie Terasson’s interpretation. A Dorothy Ashby composition, ‘Heaven and Hell’, is treated at a shuffling pace on piano and drums, with Trible imbuing the lyrics with just the right dose of emotion. Modal piano accompaniment is the order of the day on an uptempo take on ‘Feelin’ good’, while Eastern philosophical hues are showcased on a traditional song that Nina Simone made her own in ‘Black is the colour of my true love’s hair’, with a sparse bass intro from Gavin Barras, and some delightful harp from Rachel Gladwin. As a statement of what thew musicians are seeking to communicate, the waltz-like opener, ‘What the world needs now is love’, pretty much says it all as a plea for greater global unity and is delivered at a pace that is in stark contrast with the Dionne Warwick original. Matthew Halsall plays a secondary role on this album, but as and when required, enters with a subtle trumpet solo. Jazz music can and should provide a voice on the world that surrounds it, especially when that same world is in seeming disarray and searching for deeper answers.