- Brath’s Connexion - a Jazz Psalter brings a high level of musicianship married to scripture. It’s daring, courageous, and worshipful; praising God in a way rarely experienced. I pray this is not Brath’s last offering to the Christian Music Industry.
“Sing to the LORD with exultation. O sing a new song, all creation. Sing to the LORD and bless His name. Day after day with joy proclaim. The wondrous deeds of His salvation.” Psalm 96:1-2.
This verse encapsulates Wally Brath’s album Connexion – a Jazz Psalter. Brath says,
“I have been attracted to the genre [Jazz] because of its deep harmonic and rhythmic characteristics, as well as the conversation-like quality of improvisation. The Psalms cover an expanse of emotional ground, and I believe jazz has the depth musically to match the prosody of this divine poetry.”
Brath wrote the original Psalm settings during the pandemic lockdown in 2020. Following their use during a Festival of Psalms, Brath wanted to go deeper, “I wanted to experiment with a larger ensemble while still retaining elements of jazz harmony and improvisation.” He accomplished that. During a sabbatical from Grace College and Seminary, where Brath is a professor, he enlisted jazz legend John Patitucci to play bass and provide some song direction. The result is an inspiring psalter unlike anything out there.
I wouldn’t normally list all the musicians on a recording, but given the exquisite musicianship displayed on this album, I really have to: Wally Brath on piano, Nikki Lerner on vocals, John Patitucci on bass, Adam Cruz on drums, David Lerner on drums, Alex Norris on trumpet, and Jimmy Green on sax. The strings are played by Shana Brath on violin 1, Karissa Brath on violin 2, Elizabeth Aalbue on viola, and Brian Klickman on cello.
Praise him with drums and dancing.
Praise him with harps and flutes.
Praise him with cymbals.
Praise him with loud cymbals.
Praise the Lord, all living creatures!
Praise the Lord!
Each track in Connexion – a Jazz Psalter, is named after the Psalm it’s set for. The lead track, Psalm 8, comes out with an abundance of poly-rhythms, variations, and more chord colors than a box of sixty-four Crayola crayons. It moves at a brisk clip in 6/4, but Brath lays it back enough to give the rhythm section room to groove.
Psalm 13 starts with an exposed rhythmic accompaniment and a gospel-influenced melody. The organic percussion moves into a string and piano-infused backing with a hint of blues. Alex Norris on the trumpet plays with a subtle complexity that gives the song an amazing feel.
Psalm 142 melds a soulful melody over Patitucci’s ardent bass. It moves into a trio with Brath at the piano, where he uncorks some inspiring improvisation that I could listen to over and over again and find something new every time.
Psalm 4 brings in a stirring string section that gives a different weight to the piece than the other tunes. Verse one captures the essence of the passage, “O righteous God of my salvation, Be merciful and hear my plea!” Mid-tune the band trade four’s giving the listener an opportunity to reflect on the Psalm differently with each solo.
Psalm 126 brings cool jazz into the mix. The melody has echoes of a Klezmer modality, giving it an earthy vibe. Psalm 90 introduces an almost performance poetry element that moves into a very satisfying chorus. Psalm 23 goes old-school and takes me back to the Baked Potato Jazz Club in Studio City, a stronghold of L.A. Jazz.
Brath’s Connexion – a Jazz Psalter brings a high level of musicianship married to scripture. It’s daring, courageous, and worshipful; praising God in a way rarely experienced. I pray this is not Brath’s last offering to the Christian Music Industry.
Amazing compositions with truly exceptional performances across the board.
Please don’t let this be Brath’s only offering.
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Christopher Watson is an author of six books, both fiction and non-fiction. He is also a musician and composer with a B.A. in Music from Azusa Pacific University. For several years Christopher led worship at The Springs Church while attending Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas Texas. He's been involved with worship in a number of churches in California and the Pacific Northwest both as a musician and in production and technology. Now he lives and writes in Washington State with his amazing wife, wonderful daughters, and highly intelligent dog, Ellie Mae.