JOSJOI Productions (2015)
By Bob Marovich
Not all Jamaican music is reggae, dancehall, rock steady, or any of the other popular sounds associated with the country. In fact, with rare exception, as Mike McGonigal pointed out in his notes to the reissue collection, Noah Found Grace, Jamaican gospel music was inspired by white southern gospel singing heard after hours on U.S. AM radio.
Although a connection to the contemporary gospel music scene has added more soulfulness to the Jamaican sacred sound over the years, gospel from that country still has more in common with the softer and subtler European and Canadian style than the extroverted exuberance of American gospel.
That makes it ideal musical fodder for praise and worship, and URIM7’s debut album, The Assignment, falls squarely within the P&W category, albeit with cleverer melodies. From Kingston, Jamaica, URIM7 features sweet harmonies and lilting solo work. Prayerful lyrics—mostly direct conversations with God about God—are buoyed by gently caressing melodies. A flute and sax occasionally interrupt with introspective improvisation.
URIM7—Urim means “lights” and 7 is the number of perfection—is comprised of four singers and several musicians who are graduates of the Edna Manley School of Music, the University of the West Indies, and the University of Technology. They were named a “Musical Ambassador of Caribbean American Heritage Month” for the United States and had a chance to perform their “Freedom Chant” throughout Washington DC, including for the White House.
It is with “Freedom Chant” that URIM7 departs briefly from its melodious CCM style to pay tribute to the island beat. Similarly, “Sing Sing Sing” possesses a happy and infectious Caribbean ostinato that sounds like an accompaniment to a festival.
The highlight of the album also goes against the group’s customary musical and lyrical grain. Backed by a smoky jazz combo, “The Song” is an abstract composition with female lead and real musical depth. It would be interesting to hear the group perform more arrangements like this down the road.
Vivian Valmore Martin produces the album to a fine point. The songs on The Assignment are not pew burners or church wreckers, but as melodic and simple praise music, Christian MOR, if you will, they do the job nicely.
Three of Five Stars
Picks: “The Song,” “Take Me to the Place.”