Contemporary "Church Music" Led by Legendary Saxophonist Todd Williams
Fans of the Wynton Marsalis bands of the late 80’s and early 90’s may recall his phenomenally young and phenomenally good tenor man who left the band to pursue full time music ministry. Part of this story is told in the essential book Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life. Todd Williams, aka "Deacon", left the jazz world at the top of his game, and now serves as music director of Times Square Church, still in New York City. Blocks away from Lincoln Center. Worlds away from Lincoln Center.
David, the ultimate poet/musician/warrior/king, wrote in the Psalms "sing unto the Lord a new song." New Songs Vol. 1 is dynamic proof of Times Square Church’s obedience. The first ten tracks sustain a steady high-energy tempo, after which the set simmers down to a more pastoral mood. There are many great musical moments throughout.
Todd Williams directed this project, wrote two of the songs, and played saxophone throughout. The band is pretty much the same as that on other TSC records, truly world-class musicians, but not what most jazz fans are looking for. The biggest problem here is the pervasive synth programming, making the whole affair sound more MIDI than it should. The effect probably comes across much different in person. And remember, the stated purpose is to lead people to raise their hands and voices to God. The Gospel music coming out of Times Square Church is fully believable.
"Praise the Lord," the first Williams composition, is a big-tent-revival-style boogie, complete with Hammond B3 organ, tambourine, and sincere soul-shoutin'. "But By Faith In Jesus Christ" is his other original, with a similar strong downbeat. Between the two of them, pretty much anyone should be ushered into enthusiastic praise and worship.
Don’t extended any long jazz solos, but you will be treated to some very tasty breaks. It’s enough to tell "Deacon" hasn't lost his chops, anyway, and certainly the jazziest worship music you'll ever hear. "Hallelujah, Salvation, and Glory" features great sax work, and the song itself would translate well into diverse worship settings. The final ballad, "As It Pleases You," contains a somewhat improvisational outro performance. Williams sticks close to the melody, as befits a corporate worship setting.
"All the songs contained in this recording originate from deep within the souls of people who attend Times Square Church. What you’ll hear is a product of the trials, teachings, and triumphs used by God to strengthen his beloved people. Whenever there is a genuine moving of the Spirit of God, freedom enters the hearts of his people. Along with this freedom comes hope and the inspiration of new songs. We pray that New Songs will be a blessing to you and encourage your heart to trust more deeply in the Lord." -excerpt from liner notes
New Songs Vol. 1 obviously isn’t for everyone, but is nonetheless an important document from a deeply spiritual musician. Recommended to jazz fans with an interest in praise-and-worship music.
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Todd Williams' native Saint Louis, Missouri.