Nine Beats Collective – Nine Beats to the Bar

Nine Beats Collective
Nine Beats to the Bar
Plankton Records (release date: June 16, 2017)
www.9beats.org

By Bob Marovich

Nine Beats Collective is an assembly of musicians, songwriters, composers, singers, and poets who represent three continents and contribute different musical styles, but have one thing in common: healing the world from the inside out. A product of their efforts, Nine Beats to the Bar, is as singular in its motive as it is variable in its sound.

While gospel music elements are present on the Reverend Vince Anderson’s “#blessed,” the sound shuffles, track by track, between jazz, classical, R&B, spoken word, and pop music.

On the other hand, the message is a unified expression of the social gospel as articulated by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12). The “Nine Beats,” in fact, refers to the nine Beatitudes (some scholars say there are eight, but for the purposes of the collective, it’s nine). Each Beatitude represents a “blessed” archetype that, taken together, form a tribe of change makers.  Those considered the least are the ones who will do the most to change the world. As poet Eric Leroy Wilson articulates on his spoken word “Farther,” it’s not about following a certain religion but going beyond the church walls to follow God through good works to his creation.

The album’s flow feels like Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief, where grief is triggered by violence and hatred motivated by otherness (e.g., race, religion, color, belief system). First comes the anger and frustration of Wilson’s “Call ‘Em Out” and Barry Taylor’s “Wild World.” After this energetic emphasis on the problems, the album sinks into a profound sadness that begins with composer Deborah Pritchard’s “Tread Softly,” a swirl of strings in tension, and apexes with Australian-Tongan artist Fatai’s mind-blowing “Lament.”

Stopping the listener in place from the opening bars of chilly piano, “Lament” is breathtaking and mesmerizing. “Everything is not all right. . .hope is on holiday,” Australian artist Fatai sings, keening in wordless lines of melody, as if expressing the sorrow of all creation. It is the most beautiful, and the most melancholy, piece of music I’ve heard all year. Try listening to this without feeling a lump in your throat and you are a far better person than I.

From sadness comes a cleansing breath of acceptance driven by the Serenity Prayer, i.e., knowing what to change and what not to sweat. If Martin Trotman’s breezy “Serenity” telegraphs this shift in tone, Heatherlyn’s “Letting it Go,” “What Can Love Create?” and the concluding “Give In to the Love,” provide the directive: exhale the problems away, find the good in the world, and be the good in the world. Be one of the blessed of the Beatitudes.

Nine Beats to the Bar is a complex album with messages that merit more in-depth analysis than I have space to give them here. It also requires, and deserves, multiple listenings to gain the full meaning of the lessons it presents. The album’s expert production comes from Tony Bean.

As an Elton John fan from grade school on up, I was pleased to see Caleb Quaye, Elton’s former guitarist, offering “The Way of Peace.” In fact, Quaye summarizes the album succinctly: “Follow your heartbeat – it’s the way of peace.”

Five of Five Stars

Picks: “Lament,” “The Way of Peace,” “Letting It Go.”

About Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.

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