The Choirs of Trinity United Church of Christ
Unashamed Media Group (release date: February 28, 2017)
Available on Amazon.com, itunes, other digital outlets. The hard copy with the 36 page color booklet will be available at the church by March 3, 2017, through its bookstore and website.
By Bob Marovich
Disc One of Stay Connected, the forthcoming two-disc project from Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ music and arts ministries, is alone sufficient to declare the project excellent. That it contains two discs makes it spectacular.
It has been fifteen years since the South Side church has released an album, but it was worth the wait. Stay Connected is packed with gems of all types—from praise anthems and gospel workouts to formal pieces and songs rich with African choral harmonies. The project has the musical depth of Kurt Carr albums and the annual Gospel Music Workshop of America Mass Choir efforts of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Among the collection’s highlights is the Sanctuary Choir’s medley of two spirituals, “Jesus is a Rock in a Weary Land” and “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” With only a thumping beat for accompaniment, the medley evokes the a cappella singing of spirituals in brush harbor meetings.
The album pays homage to Trinity’s commitment to pan-Africanism with several nods to African, Afro-Brazilian, and Afro-Caribbean sounds. For example, Dr. Fred Onovwerosuoke leads the Mass Choir on “Yesu Sore,” translated as “Arise, Jesus” or “Wake Up, Jesus.” It is a lovely ballad with as authentic and lush African choral harmonies as you are likely to hear outside of South Africa. Later, Uche Omoniyi and the church’s African Dance Ensemble provide a hypnotic drum piece called “Sorsonet Balafele.” “Estacao Raiz” has a Brazilian flavor.
The Women’s Chorus and Bryan Johnson, Trinity’s Executive Director of Sacred Music, render the majestic “Make Your Presence Known,” written by legendary gospel songwriter A. Jeffrey LaValley. LaValley, along with Plu Harmon, Eric Troy, Wayne Barrett, and Dr. Onovwerosuoke helped in producing the album, and their combined talents are in evidence throughout.
The high point of the two-disc set is the Sanctuary Choir’s “I Know the Lord Will Answer Prayer,” a Calvin Bridges pewburner that evokes his “I Can Go to God in Prayer.” Another standout is Dr. Cynthia Nunn’s “He’ll Be Right There,” which she leads with the Mass Choir. Towards the conclusion of “Abba Father,” a praise song in a minor key, the Youth Choirs drone a note under the main melody, then raise the emotional tension of the entire arrangement by singing the same note an octave higher. It’s a chilling touch. Kevon Carter’s “God is Good” is the current radio single.
Trinity United Church of Christ, now under the leadership of the Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III, with the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. as pastor emeritus, has had a storied history of sacred music. Back in the day, Trinity’s music ministry embraced contemporary gospel music and exploded in growth under the leadership of the late Jeffrey Radford. But there’s no doubt that Stay Connected is the finest collection to come out of the church’s music and arts ministries and is in the running for JGM’s Best Gospel Album of the Year.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “I Know the Lord Will Answer Prayer,” “Abba Father,” “He’ll Be Right There.”