Wednesday, July 6, 2016

George Lewis Plays Hymns * 1964 * Milneburg Records MCD 1


George Lewis Plays Hymns


In the Upper Garden
Does Jesus Care
God Will Take Care of You
His Eye Is On The Sparrow
When I Come To The End Of My Journey
Nearer My God To Thee
Sing On
I Shall Not Be Moved
What A Friend We Have In Jesus
At The Cross
Where He Leads Me
Only A Look
Lily of the Valley
Near the Cross
Rock of Ages

George Lewis * clarinet
Joe Robichaux * piano
Pacide Adams * bass


On March 10th and November 28th of 1964, George Lewis recorded one of his most heartfelt and unusual albums. Backed only by Joe Robichaux's piano and Placide Adams's bass he sang fifteen hymn tunes through his Albert system clarinet, simply, clearly, and sincerely.

We can't know exactly what it must have felt like to be in the room with him, but the recording remains one of the best recorded representations of traditional New Orleans clarinet sound.

Unlike the usual procedure of recording in a studio, Lewis requested these be made in a private residence (the uptown home of trombonist Paul Crawford), to enhance the intimacy of the album. The sound is noticeably different--it's great to have a document of his sound in the type of place musicians often actually play this music, whether practicing or for private gatherings.

Ed Lewis's liner notes are excellent, discussing the sessions themselves and the importance of hymn tunes to the history of jazz, pointing out the natural ecumenism of the New Orleans musical world which saw no contradiction in the Catholic George Lewis known for his interpretations of great Protestant hymns.

Most importantly to the jazz clarinetist (after the spiritual substance and depth of this record, that is) is the chance to hear George Lewis's sound, reflectively, clearly, beautifully reproduced, without anything beyond the most genteel accompaniment. Every nuance of his talking style can be appreciated, and the more one listens, the more the warmth of his particular soul effects your heart. There is something of an emotional and spiritual sharing that Lewis accomplishes through his sound that all jazz musicians, and perhaps all musicians in general, ought to aspire to. Indeed, the spiritual substance of the record is entirely wedded to his sound in a manner rarely matched by any instrumentalist.

George Lewis is in many ways an important and indispensable clarinetist in the history of jazz. For those accustomed to listening only to the more technically advanced or commercially successful players, he is a particularly important touchstone to the spiritual roots of the music and expressive range of clarinet tone. This unique album is an important document and resource, of permanent interest in any jazz clarinet library.

Included on the CD version of this album is a seven minute interview with George Lewis, only adding to it's historical importance.      

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