The designation "African American concert spiritual" may be unique to this recording by the innovative small vocal ensemble Seraphic Fire, but it's a useful one. Many of the arrangements of spirituals here have been heard before (only two are by Seraphic Fire conductor Patrick Dupré Quigley), but they've never been put together into a program that represents them as part of a tradition. Of course this tradition is a long one, stretching from the late 19th century down to the present day, and hearing the various ways these melodies may be treated is quite absorbing. Seraphic Fire's readings of these works, will be a matter of taste. Sample the arrangement of This Little Light of Mine by John Work (John Wesley Work III), and see how you like the choir's very careful, controlled approach. There is little of a traditional African American aesthetic of deep emotional sincerity here. This may be to the good: Seraphic Fire is quite a malleable unit in Quigley's hands, and this opens up such novel possibilities as the conclusion with lovely piano-driven arrangements of Were You There? and Steal Away, by Quigley himself. But you need to understand what you're getting into: this is music-making that makes no attempt to replicate the power of African American sacred song.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim