Review by Andrew Parker
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
Naturally, the marriage of music and theology is penetratingly emotional. Bunnies and chocolate aside, Easter is the holiday marking the trial, conviction and bloody persecution of debatably the most controversial prophet of all time. As the minister rewove the events leading to Jesus Christ's murder, Don Hardy and his musicians provided a stirring soundtrack, matching the lashes of the Romans, note for note. I truly enjoyed the drastic jump-cut from the philosophy of Jesus on adultery to a straight-ahead bop groove, complete with a bouncing bass line and the thick, honeyed guitar of Rob Steininger. "Let thou who has not sinned cast the first stone.." BOOM... do... do...do... da-do-da... dooooo...
Following another lively liturgy on the infamous forty day fast, the audience was treated to the lush harmonies of the torch-trilogy of back-up vocalists. Country diva Megan Metcalfe, songbird coach Holly Denney and consummate showman -- and Yale regular -- Oliver Conway all combined to transmit the faithful anguish of the sacrificial fast. In their own sanguinely silent way, many people in the crowd seemed quite moved by this number. One fellow in attendance was certainly picking up some energy-giving elixir from this spoken-word/jazz combo. Each time Don Hardy instructed his charges to unleash the flow, this character leapt from his seat and shook it down on a spontaneously-chosen dance floor. I kept wishing he might send a little street-level zeitgeist my way, and even more heartily I was craving a shot or two of whatever was in the paper sack beside him!
Throughout the set I was impressed with Don Hardy's licks, whether on piano, on muted trumpet (Ben Neil, watch your back) or especially while pumping up the suspense on the organ. The fat-ass fusion of organ, Brian Harrison on bass, and guitar wizard Steininger, cut out a sly slice of Miles Davis' brashly bastardful On the Corner/Bitches Brew days. As I rode the hard pine, my mind raced, drawing coy links between the spontaneous improv of jazz and a versatile, wily preacher.
As the words detailing the entombing of Jesus trailed off, the sweetly layered noises of jazz filled the church. Echoing the New Orleans burial traditions, the route home from the cemetery was a joyful one, replete with celebration, not mourning. At the end of the final tune, a spiritual, I stood with the crowd and applauded. For despite my misgivings about the vehement dogma in the Christian story, the music of the Don Hardy group had made my Jazz Vespers experience one to remember.
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