Title: Preaching to the Choir
Artist: Vincent Herring
Label: Smoke Sessions
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: April 30, 2021
After a bout with coronavirus left lingering side effects as well as a dearth of paying gigs, saxophonist Vincent Herring was no longer certain about his long range prospects as a musician. Thankfully, as both his health and performance opportunities began to rebound, Herring was inspired to undertake a new project, Preaching to the Choir, that “delivers a sermon of optimism and hope to the jazz faithful, aided by as fervent a congregation as a swing disciple could pray for: pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and drummer Johnathan Blake.”
Herring primarily selected uplifting tunes for this album, recognizing that “as bad as things are—and they are bad—the promise of tomorrow is going to be special.” The title track, “Preaching to the Choir,” channels the call and response of a gospel choir before settling into a smooth soul-jazz groove. The group gives an amazing, tour de force performance of “Fried Pies,” an uptempo Wes Montgomery tune that really swings, and then swings some more. One of the most complex offerings is “Ojos de Rojo,” a tribute to Cedar Walton in whose band Herring played for more than two decades. Each member of the group gets a workout, with Chestnut furiously pounding the keys as the tune reaches a climax. Relaxing the pace, Herring’s sax soars on a poignant version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” with Chestnut contributing an intricate piano solo. Concluding with Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” Herring’s inspiring solo reminds us to embrace life and loved ones while we are still here on this earth, because we never know what tomorrow may bring.
Preaching to the Choir is just what jazz aficionados need at this moment, an album that stirs the spirit while also bursting at the seams with masterful performances. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss