Wynton Marsalis pays tribute to historic Harlem church
By Jon Garelick
Commissioned to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Harlem’s historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, Wynton Marsalis’s “Abyssinian Mass” harks back to his 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Blood on the Fields” in scale, marshaling the forces of a 70-voice gospel choir — Chorale le Chateau, directed by Damien Sneed — and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. (A Boston audience heard the piece in an October 2013 Celebrity Series concert at Symphony Hall.) Steeped in African-American church traditions, the composition, as you might expect, is infused with rocking blues, fervid musical testifying, and propulsive call-and-response. If the results sometimes feel a bit overstuffed (there’s even some sermonizing, by the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III), the mood of uplift and inclusiveness is hard to resist, especially when swept along by the composer’s adept mix of second-line rhythms, big-band swing, bravura solos, and an angel’s breath interlude of soft reeds. The album, the first recording of a new Marsalis composition in six years, includes a bonus DVD with performance footage and commentary.