Saxophonist Jeff Newell recognized that old military marches by John Philip Sousa were long overdue for adaptation into jazz settings. But his octet blends traditional horns with a modern rhythm section (including keyboards and electric guitar) playing Afro-Cuban jazz rhythms and calypso riffs underneath the brass and reeds, giving the bandleader's famous music a completely new sound. As a result, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "The Lamb's March," and "The Washington Post" have been liberated from the 19th century. The same idea is applied to his arrangement of the timeless hymn "Amazing Grace," showcasing John McLean's blistering guitar, sounding much like a blend of the various musical styles one can hear in present day New Orleans. The leader's "Hymn Pan Alley" is a suite of six compositions built upon excerpts from gospel hymns, written in various styles from a traditional march, to a waltz, mambo, and zydeco. The one vocal feature is Newell's raucous "Fill the Temple." This remarkable recording is well worth investigating, as the musicians readily take to Newell's imaginative charts.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden