Composer: Mary Lou Williams.
Personnel: Mary Lou Williams (piano); The Ray Charles Singers, Jimmy Mitchell (vocals); Grant Green (guitar); Budd Johnson (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone); Percy Brice (drums).
Recording information: New York City, Cue Studios (10/09/1963/11/19/1963); Nola Studios, New York, NY (10/09/1963/11/19/1963).
Arrangers: Mary Lou Williams; Melba Liston.
The Smithsonian Folkways reissue of Mary Lou Williams's 1964 experimental classic BLACK CHRIST OF THE ANDES is an excellent package. With four previously unreleased bonus tracks and an annotated booklet including track-by-track notes and accompanying photographs, there is no shortage of extras. Fortunately, one also gets the remarkable original album--a project of great ambition on which Williams melds spirituals, blues, and jazz into a forward-thinking suite that draws the thematic parallel between Christian spirituality and African-American music.
Stylistically, BLACK CHRIST OF THE ANDES is nothing if not eclectic. Peppered with spiritually themed a cappella choral pieces, Williams's album spins through a history of modern music. Sophisticated interpretations of familiar tunes (including a smoky "It Ain't Necessarily So) alternate with Williams's originals. The fractured, avant-classical "A Fungus A Mungus," for example, gives way to the fun bounce of "Koolbonga," before closing out with the rollicking "Praise the Lord." The artist's piano skills are on full display here, too; her solos show her roots as a stride pianist, yet also find her conversant with post-bop and modal playing. For its musical range and breadth of vision, BLACK CHRIST OF THE ANDES is a stunning and singular achievement.