Album Review

Posted: Monday 11th September 2006
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Will Todd: Mass in Blue – Gramophone

Liturgical jazz is nothing new: there have been worthy, if not particularly inspiring, sacred works by several accomplished jazz composers, including Jack Reilly, Michael Garrick, Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington. Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, premiered in 2003 as Jazz Mass, is a very creditable addition to the genre but, like its predecessors, provides little in the way of musical epiphanies or Damascene revelations.

That said, it is an enjoyable listen. Todd clearly loves and understands jazz, qualities which don’t always go together in classically trained musicians professing an interest in what most dictionaries still hopelessly, inadequately and obsoletely define as garish, strongly-rhythmic, syncopated dance music. He does not use jazz forms and accents merely as exotic colourings but embraces their spirit and vibrancy. As a pianist, showcased especially well in the cadenza which opens the Kyrie and in the Sanctus, Todd is a respectable, workmanlike mainstream-modern player. There’s nothing to discommode anyone unwilling to come to terms with the developments of the past 50 years in jazz (or the past 95 years in classical music) but plenty to please listeners who appreciate skilful and entertaining writing. Todd is well served by the brass, reed and rhythm ensemble that joins the Vasari Singers for the Mass, and soprano Bethany Halliday solos with conviction.

The balance of the programme, with Todd accompanying on some tracks, comprises modest but effective settings of various psalms, poems and hymns. Mostly commissioned for school and church choirs, they are object lessons in economy and clarity which the Vasari Singers perform impeccably.

Barry Witherden