Chanda Rule – David Murray Gospel Project
(Streamed live from Jazzclub Unterfahrt, Munich on 8 December, 2020. Review by John Bungey)
If you’re an aspiring singer the critics are starting to love, then teaming up with the great saxophonist David Murray to explore your shared gospel roots must be a good idea – or must it? This was a fine show of jazzy blues and gospel – it’s just that when you have a player as incandescent as Murray sharing the stage fellow performers can be left in the shade. Murray, son of a church pianist, whose 100-plus albums include a Spirituals set, unleashed a series of tenor sax and bass clarinet solos of glorious flare. Channeling a style that sits between late Coltrane and the classic jazz tradition he could be discursive, passionate, chatty – sometimes all three – on his journeys through the octaves. So much so that you began to feel slightly sorry for Paul Zauner, the trombonist-bandleader, who often had to follow Murray’s fusillades. Wisely he chose a contrasting approach but his understated, occasionally under-amplified forays paled by comparison.
The pair were buoyed by an impressive rhythm section – Wolfram Derschmidt on bass and Jeff Boudreaux, drums – handling the blues, boogie and New Orleans shuffles with a subtlety such styles don’t always receive. Jan Korinek on organ nailed down the righteous gospel flourishes.
But what of the frontwoman? Chanda Rule grew up in Chicago and now lives in Austria. Recording since 2005, she has won acclaim for this year’s Hold On album of soul-jazz. She’s a striking presence with a voice full of power and conviction despite giving her all to a few lonely, if enthusiastic, handclaps in a largely vacant club.
The set began with the funky strut of Murray’s Morning Song, written for his mother and the first time with lyrics. Halfway through the saxophonist set out his stall with an opening display of fireworks. This Train sped along at a faster clip than Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s version, with Korinek swapping to electric guitar adding some tasteful fills. Murray’s I Dig was the sort of rootsy organ blues that Van Morrison loves to moan through these days. The set then moved to the songs and spirituals “of my ancestors and David’s ancestors”, as Rule put it. Wade in the Water was taken briskly with an added drum solo. I’m Too Close oozed soul and It Ain’t Necessarily So swung irresistibly. How I Got Over didn’t match the electricity of Aretha Franklin’s recording – but then whose does?
The high drama of Precious Memories came drenched in gospel organ as Rule talked about “getting your church on in your living rooms”. Well bedded in, the band cruised on, finishing with a Murray tune from the 1970s, Let the Music Take Ya – full-on funk complete with a rap from the saxophonist that you’d like to think had the virtual audience up off the sofa.
So did Chanda rule…so to speak? She’s a fine gospel singer – soulful or gutsy as required – who commanded the material. She’s not a showboater – only occasionally as in the bluesy wails towards the end of Precious Memories, did she really let rip. But gospel and blues are crowded fields – as a talent like Lizz Wright, who has never really broken through here, will know. You’ll hear Rule’s potential best on the album Hold On, which stretches her more – and there’s no star collaborator stage left.