By J.D. Considine | Published March 2022
The Gospel According To Nikki Giovanni is not what its title suggests. Instead of a celebration of the words and wisdom of that great Black poet, what the album offers is a few of her words, a taste of her voice, and nine of her favorite hymns. But would Gospel Favorites According To Nikki Giovanni have been as compelling?
With “Wade In The Water” we hear what it could have been. Jackson’s quartet take a down-tempo, hard-bop approach, closer to Art Blakey’s “Moanin’” — appropriate, given Jackson’s status as one of the Jazz Messengers’ last cohort — than Ramsey Lewis’ pop-soul spin. Then, after Jeremy Manasia’s piano solo, Christina Greer declaims Giovanni’s poem “A Very Simple Wish.” In combining the works, the track offers a promising and provocative take on the concept of redemption, which, expanded to album length, would really have lived up to the title. On the other hand, would that have left room for Giovanni’s rendition of “Night Song,” a wistful ballad from the musical Golden Boy? Yes, Giovanni isn’t a singer, and there are notes here she barely reaches, but her feeling for the song more than compensates.
As for the rest, Jackson would rather honor the songs than expand upon them. On some — “Night Song,” “I’ve Been ’Buked,” “I Want To Be A Christian” — he merely states the melody, and apart from a calypso treatment of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” the treatments are respectfully rote. If honesty and audacity are what you associate with Giovanni’s work, this album will meet you only halfway.
The Gospel According To Nikki Giovanni: Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel; Wade In The Water; Night Song; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child; Mary Had A Baby, Yes Lord; Leaning On The Everlasting Arms; I’ve Been ’Buked; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Lord, I Want To Be A Christian; I Opened My Mouth To The Lord. (57:35)
Personnel: Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone; Nikki Giovanni, vocals (3); Christina Greer, poem interpretation (2); Jeremy Manasia, piano; David Williams, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums.
Ordering Info: javonjackson.com