Collection: Witness, Vol. 1

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Traditional
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Spirituals and Gospels
PERFORMER: Moore by Four Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Ensemble Singers & Chorus of the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota/Philip Brunelle
CATALOGUE NO: 14492 DDD

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This is frankly a bit of a mish-mash: simple devotional, negro hymns, set against what sounds like commercialised busking; cotton-picking spiritual meshing uncomfortably with overlarded ‘gospel blues’, grotesquely overstated piano accompaniment and the odd naff up-to-date arrangement. The disc launches well (a nicely laid-back, unpretentious rendering of Jack Halloran’s ‘Witness’).

The choir seems more at ease in the niftier movements: the (piano-drowned) ‘Walk Together, Children’, with its Dixie-swing, the supple ‘Elijah Rock’ or baritone-led ‘Go where I send thee’. The soprano Yolanda Williams adds alluring solos – doubly appealing in that splendid (and politically double-edged) song ‘In Dat Great Gittin’ Up Morning’, or in a ‘Go Down, Moses’ setting (arr. Robert A Harris) worthy of Tippett. Elsewhere the Plymouth tuning feels oddly touch-and-go: a treacly legato, plus woolly vowels or sapped consonants, mars several tracks.

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The vocal quartet Moore by Four might blossom freed of ostentatious instrumental backing and that ‘black and white minstrel’ quality Collins’s programme note purposefully derides. Overall, I’d say the bad outweighs the good. Roderic Dunnett