Nearly 16 years after issuing Steal Away, bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Hank Jones recorded a second set of spiritual folk songs, cut in 2010, only three months before Jones' passing. Many jazz records have explored spiritual folk music -- Grant Green's beautiful Feelin' the Spirit from 1962 and Cyrus Chestnut's 2006 Spirit are but two bookend examples.
Haden and Jones weren't concerned with harmonic and improvisational concepts here. The two jazz musicians also had solid church backgrounds, and were participants in the civil rights struggles of the last century. These sacred folk songs hold shared meaning as well as individual ones that reflect the different sides of the church aisle.
With the possible exception of their gorgeous delivery of Antonin Dvorák's title track, which has become a jazz and blues standard, all of these songs have been sung in churches for centuries. There are contrasts between Come Sunday and its predecessor. A large one is technological: digital recording has been vastly improved upon since the 1990s. On Steal Away some of the warmth afforded a duo like this naturally was blunted because any sense of real depth was virtually unable to be captured on tape, reducing the sense of intimacy.
On Come Sunday, it looms large; the studio room itself becomes an equal participant in these sessions -- it reflects back everything, from the sounds of piano pedals and fingers on keys to bass strings being pulled and plucked. This is a huge plus; that spaciousness allows the listener to get front-pew close and hear the natural warmth in the playing. In terms of the material there are stark differences, too. Steal Away contained primarily hymns, but there were also other folk songs, from "Danny Boy" to "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child."
On Come Sunday, the music is purely sacred. It is reverent and restrained (overly in some places, more so than its predecessor). Steal Away swung -- albeit quietly -- throughout. That quality shows up here, but far less so; the readings of these tunes are more literal. On numbers such as "Down by the Riverside," "Deep River," and "Give Me That Old Time Religion," Jones makes room for jazz to enter full front and center, while never straying far from the melody; he lets the blues into the picture, Thomas A. Dorsey style, with pronounced left-hand work in the lower registers.
Haden has always been as much a melodist as a timekeeper, something Ornette Coleman understood from the jump, which is why he chose the bassist early on. That quality is showcased on the "Take My Hand Precious Lord," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and "Going Home," where he leads the way. When he's following Jones' lead, he walks and bumps in tandem, adding a sense of swing. Ultimately, Come Sunday might have fared a little better by replacing the carols with more hymns, because the former are so staid. But that's a small complaint.
At its best, Come Sunday is lovely, elegant, and even stirring. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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