Pamela York,
Lay Down This World
(Jazzful Heart, 2012)

Pamela York is one fine piano player. Classically trained as a teenager, then schooled at Berklee, she knows her instrument and how to get fine sounds out of it. To listen to York play is to float away, carried through time and space on the on wings of beauty.

On this CD, her third as a leader, she concentrates on sacred music, offering 11 hymns and spirituals, but she doesn't play them as so many musicians do -- as musty, hidebound tunes that must be used for worship, not pleasure. No, as a jazz pianist, she reharmonizes the tunes, plays them, as she says, with "one foot in the tradition and one foot in the future."

The result is gorgeous. Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" has a kind of bossa nova feel to it. The new rhythm doesn't detract from the tune's beauty but instead puts it in a new perspective. It's like seeing a favorite painting in a new frame. York is always respectful of her material but is not hampered by it.

If there's anything that throws me out of the album, it's the addition of a trombone on an uptempo version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee." The CD presents four wonderful piano trio songs and then suddenly breaks the established mood with the addition of a trombone in a questionable arrangement of "Closer Walk." Then, though, the mood is recaptured and goes along fine ... until the return of the trombone in the last song, which as a ballad is not a much of a system shock as "Closer Walk."

As hard as York worked on these arrangements, it's possible with the trombone, she's going for something in a place where I just can't follow. For me, it just didn't work.

Still, 9 out of the 11 cuts are magnificent, and that's more than enough to recommend this album.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

13 April 2013

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