A majestic, clamorous work of spiritually motivated, large ensemble jazz and gospel, Wynton Marsalis' 2016 The Abyssinian Mass is a truly epic offering. Recorded live in 2013 at Lincoln Center, The Abyssinian Mass is a composition commemorating the 200th anniversary of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church in 2008. It's an extensive work that finds Marsalis attempting to draw connections between secular and sacred music. Helping to bring this composition to life is a combined ensemble of jazz and gospel musicians, including the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Damien Sneed, and Chorale le Chateau. Conceptually speaking, Marsalis' composition is designed to flow like a church service, with movements broken down into sections like "Call to Worship," "Processional," "Responsive Reading," and, of course, a "Sermon," delivered here in three parts by Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III.
For fans of Marsalis' jazz-centric recordings, there's a lot to chew on. There are plenty of swaggering, exuberant solos and the rhythm section is rarely playing anything less than an infectious, foot-tapping beat. That said, this is a lengthy recording, spread over two discs, mixing instrumental and spoken word sections alongside commandingly sung ensemble sections from Choral le Chateau. What's so invigorating about Marsalis' work is how he successfully intertwines the more traditional, classical-influenced gospel sections with the raucous, swinging, and bluesy jazz sections. Tracks like "Call to Worship" and "Processional: We Are on Our Way" find the JLCO trumpets colliding in shiny, Teutonic brilliance over drummer Ali Jackson's roiling, earthy swing, while Choral le Chateau soars as one behind them. Regardless of your religious inclinations, The Abyssinian Mass is an ambitious, uplifting production that fits nicely alongside Marsalis' similarly inclined albums In This House, On This Morning and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields.