Jazz Album of the Week: The Gospel of Trumpeter Paul Giess, ‘Hymns Vol. 1’
September 6, 2021. What’s a kid from West Chester know about the soul of New Orleans jazz? A little more than you’d think. Trumpeter Paul Giess earned his master’s at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, then, in 2015, served as musical director of a play in New Orleans.
Back in Philadelphia now, he’s a consistent presence and mentor at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts and gigs regularly with, among others, the Yolanda Wisher-led Afroeaters—whose NPR Live Sessions performance from WRTI’s performance studio you can find here.
But once a musician gets a taste for the flavors of jazz’s ancestral birthplace they become part of his DNA forever. Case in point is Giess’ latest release, Hymns Vol. 1, the Jamaaladeen Tacuma-produced follow-up to his 2015 debut U Suite U.
The music’s sourced from the hymnal of the West Chester-area church Giess grew up attending, but it’s infused with a Crescent City sensibility. The opener, a Giess arrangement of “We’re Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table,” struts with all the peacocking panache of a musical procession down Magazine St., while “I Walk the Unfrequented Road” cultivates the kind of Southern Gothic atmosphere that’s enjoyed a pop-culture revival since the publishing of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
All the aesthetic signposts are there, from V. Shayne Frederick’s charismatically proselytizing vocals to the electric muddiness of Will Brock’s Fender Rhodes piano. And the Satch-like wah-wah issuing from Giess’ muted trumpet and the languid, metallic clanging of Jeff Scull’s distortion-heavy guitar lord over the sound like a canopy of Spanish moss.
Frederick, dispensing of the haunting quality, is even more memorable on the lead single, “Guide My Feet.” He could sing about breakfast cereal and make me believe in a higher power. General Mills would do well to take note.
But what you, as a listener, ought to take note of is the penultimate tune, “Find a Stillness.” The album’s climax, everything Giess and co. have been working toward reaches its highest expression on this one. You won’t find wah-wah mutes, distortion, or affectation of any kind here.
This Giess arrangement is his unvarnished gospel, and the best showcase here of Giess as a lead soloist. But he doesn’t monopolize the spotlight. The rhythm section of Brock, Matt Jernigan (drums) and Erik Kramer (bass) anchors the group through high-energy bursts and carries them through purposeful ebbs punctuated by spoken word passages from Wadud Ahmad meant to calm the chatter in our overstimulated minds.
Take these tunes and, as the closer here instructs, “Go Now in Peace.”