This disc collects choral arrangements of African-American spirituals, some of them drawn from longer works, by choir director Robert DeCormier. He worked as an arranger for such artists of the 1950s and 1960s as Odetta and Harry Belafonte, and some of the arrangements here date back to a group called the DeCormier Singers that he founded around that time. They are very much of that period, although they are sung by DeCormier's new group, Counterpoint. It doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine some of them as part of the soundtrack to A Mighty Wind, for the listener to this disc enters the realm of the folkie spiritual. Curiously, the free-standing spiritual arrangements here work better than those incorporated into the ballet Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder (later part of the repertory of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company) and the cantata-ballet They Called Her Moses, based on the life of Harriet Tubman and narrated by Jonita Lattimore. The individual spirituals have harmonically rich arrangements not far removed from those made by the African-American choir leaders who inspired DeCormier, but many of the effects in the two dramatic works are definitely dated (sample the shuffle-beat guitar of track 19, "To Da Darlin Day"). The choir has a certain reserve that may annoy listeners who associate African American music with deep emotional conviction. The choir here is interracial, as was DeCormier's previous group, and the live question of ownership of the spirituals by African Americans is only tangentially relevant. This music may evoke an era in which black-white cooperation in the arena of civil rights seemed easier than it does not. But it's still a throwback that makes one realize how much times have changed.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, suite for choir|
|They Called Her Moses, cantata for voice, narrator, choir, guitar, bass & percussion|