It’s a given that show tunes and Tin Pan Alley songs have provided plenty of fodder for jazz interpretations, especially in the decades before there were enough quality standards written specifically for jazz to fill up a fake book. There’s long been another, almost forgotten, source for great jazz treatments, and that’s the sturdy old spirituals still being heard in thousands of churches across the country every first day of the week. On this topic, I always think of Grant Green’s Feelin’ the Spirit from 1962, which includes songs so old most were credited to “traditional” but Green found gold in those old rhapsodies, conceived to stir up emotions, which goes hand in glove with the “feel” aspect of jazz.
Now comes a couple of other legends in a two-man summit meeting that conjures up that ol’ feeling of sturdy gospel songs…again. Come Sunday follows by about seventeen years the first time bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Hank Jones met for a duet performing songs from the pew (Steal Away, 1995). Of course, one of these two legends are no longer with us: three months after Haden and Jones taped these sessions in February, 2010, Hank Jones was dead after living a fruitful ninety-two years, making Come Sunday possibly Jones’ swan song in one of the most productive and exhaustive discographies in all of jazz.
This time, as it was then, these are recordings by a duo perfectly suited to render these sturdy, inspirational songs. Haden, as someone with deep roots in Americana/folk music and a brilliant knack for making a simple melody simply beautiful, has the right partner in Jones, whose woolly touch and gentle swing caresses these songs with the kind of reverence that’s meant for them. The choice of material and the way they’re handled make this technically not a jazz record; if these songs were performed like this at Sunday service, it wouldn’t sound out of place at all, although you’d certainly notice how much better they’re played.
There’s not much to separate Sunday from Steal, it’s almost as if both records were extracted from the same recording sessions. However, Haden does seem to take on the lead role of carrying out the basic melody more this go around than before. As one of the few bassists who can pull off this off with such ease and preciseness, his woody pulses elevate selections like “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Bringing In The Sheaves.” Jones assumes the accompanist role with his usual sensitivity and smoothly transitions into the front when Haden backs into the tapestry. The nonagenarian isn’t overly assertive, but that has nothing to do with stamina, but rather, his understanding the approach required of the material. However, he shows a bit of his spunk on more uptempo tunes like “Give Me That Old time Religion.”
Set for release January 10 by Emarcy Records, Come Sunday is as fine of a record you could cue up on a peaceful Sunday morning, or any other serene, spiritual time of the week.