Sunday, September 18, 2011

Radical Departure

Another name that needs no introduction: James Cleveland. However, not all of his albums may be equally known, and those from the early '60s are in generally less remembered today.

Savoy LP # MG-14068 (1962)
One of those albums was released in 1962, entitled »The Soul Of .... James Cleveland« (Savoy LP # MG-14068). Yes, another of those »Soul of ...« gospel LPs which abounded during the '60s, quite obviously called thus in order to cash in on the success of soul music in the secular market. No »soul« on this LP, though, at least not soul in the conventional sense. But still this LP stands out in the gospel field of the early '60s: four instrumentalists playing together, and several instrumentals among the songs. What is more, several well-known tunes (»When the Saints ...«, »Down By The Riverside«, »Joshua Fit ...«) are here inter- preted in a very original and pleasing fashion. And the liner notes on the back cover tell it correctly:
This album is a radical departure from anything James Cleveland has ever attempted before. Besides being a great singer and writer, James is also one of the finest religious pianists in the world, and here he displays his virtuos- ity in a most interesting and entertaining experiment. Along with James at the piano, is the sensational Billy Preston at the organ, Joe Marshall at the drums and Barney Richmond on the bass volin. ... Thanks to the imagination of James Cleveland, This is a first in the field of gospel recordings which opens more avenues in which the word of God can be expressed.
Quite an assembly of talents here! As said above, one strength of the album are the original and unconventional versions of various old gospel standards. I'll post some of them soon. After all, it's hard to listen to such tunes as »When The Saints Go Marching In« today, having heard them countless times in ever-the-same versions. Cleveland's version therefore really comes as a delight, because he offers the song in a new garb, so to speak, and some of those over-popular gospel standards are in dire need of this.

Another strength of the album are the instru- mentals, and it's one of these you can listen to below. As summer is about to end, I thought it fitting to select a song two vocal versions of which I posted back in May: »In The Garden«. Now, on Cleveland's 1962 LP we have an instrumental version of it, here entitled (after the first line) »I Come To The Garden«. This tune very much embodies the idea behind Cleveland's album: Doing something different with commonly-known material. And he certainly did: Together with Barney Richmond on violin and Billy Preston at the organ, Cleveland created an impressionistic 5-minute pastiche losely based on the harmonies of that tune, with the violin being the dominant instrument in the most remarkable passages. If at all, the overall effect is, to my mind, only marred by a slight overdose of the snare drum in the second part. Well, judge for yourself:

James Cleveland (feat. Billy Preston): »I Come To The Garden« from the Savoy LP # 14068 (1962):

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P.S. The cover art is, as so often on Savoy albums, by Harvey. Check out the website devoted to his art.
Happy Sunday y'all.

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