December 1st, 2006
If three adjectives were all that were to be used to describe Ruth Naomi Floyd and her work they would be innovative, synergistic, and brilliant. Floyd combines her strong belief in Christianity and her love of jazz into one vibrant package that becomes “gospel-jazz.” Trained as a pianist and composer, Floyd is a masterful artist. This training coupled with her background—growing up in church gospel choirs—explains the extraordinary control she capitalizes upon in her delivery. Carrying the messages of hope, love, and faith found in gospel music, layered over the smooth, melodic jazz, Floyd’s fusion is a beautiful work of self expression.
Root to the Fruit is Floyd’s fifth album release on the Contour Records label, which she also owns. The majority of songs featured on this album are either traditional African American spirituals arranged for jazz expression, or wholly composed by Floyd, with few exceptions. Floyd seeks to bring comfort and consolation to the world through her music. Placing gospel lyrics against the backdrop of jazz, her music will appeal to a varying demographic.
The spirituals selected for this album are beautifully sung with all the emotion that these songs deserve. Floyd’s arrangements of the spirituals do not harm their integrity, rather they preserve and renew their vitality. Notable tracks on Root to the Fruit include “Oh Freedom,” “Open the Door to Him,” and “Act of Contrition.” What is special about these tracks is that Floyd uses perfect diction, while remaining true to the message and the improvisation that gained jazz as well as gospel their notoriety. Not all of the songs on this album are accompanied by strings and winds. “No Hiding Place” features dramatic drumming with a definite African aesthetic. The lyrics for this song are taken from traditional gospel songs and scripture, providing an illustration of the earlier fusion that created the black musical aesthetic.
The sound quality of this album is superb. Not only are the vocals elegantly laid on each track, but those who appreciate acoustic jazz will be delighted as well. Little if anything negative can be said about this album. Hearing the gospel delivered from a different perspective that reinforces and preserves its meaning is an extraordinary experience. Floyd’s total, unfettered praise of God, combined with her love of jazz makes this an album worth listening to.
Posted by Brandon Houston