Great Day - Indra Thomas sings spirituals
Accompanied by Sandra Lutters (piano) with Sheryl Heather Cohen, Katie
Lucie and Melissa Parks backing vocals in ‘Great Day’
rec. Water Music Studios, 2012
For track listing see below
DELOS DE3427 [53.10]
Well, how do you like your spirituals? You might,
for all I know, prefer a Seventh Day Adventists’ church mixed
choir at least strong bouncing around to fancy arrangements of ‘Joshua’
and ‘Great Day’. You may however think of the Oxbridge tradition
and tasteful British arrangements, even Tippett’s ‘Child
of our time’ versions which stand between the two extremes. You
might think of the great bass singers. Have you ever heard Mike Holcombe?
There’s always the noble Paul Robeson and the tenor William Warfield.
For something really authentic and unaccompanied try ‘The Temptations’.
What do they all have in common? Well, they certainly offer passionate,
technically secure and committed presentations. They are vocally controlled
and mostly vibrato-less; words, especially consonants, are clear while
vowels are natural with no sense of distortion. Pitches are clearly
focused and the music is generally put first - interpretation second.
Try the wonderful Canadian-born George London, - power and control personified
For solo female exponents look up the unaffected and fervent Carmen
Rodney. In more modern times there is Michelle Williams. Indra Thomas,
despite the extraordinary and well-meant booklet notes by Lindsay Koob
does not fit into any of these categories. I found that this recording
demonstrated a far too mannered approach to what should be natural,
unaffected yet clear and spiritually uplifting. Thomas is ‘over
the top’ and far too operatic and sometimes technically uncontrolled
with too much vibrato and unclear diction. The booklet offers no texts
and various friends who have heard the disc have found more than half
of the words indistinct.
Having said that it’s fair to say that the faster spirituals come
off much the best. Try Joshua fit the battle and Witness
where Thomas does not have the time for all that self-indulgent sliding
Thomas comes from a distinguished background. She was “raised”
on Negro Spirituals, as her father was a minister in Atlanta. Since
finishing her training she has developed into a well-known operatic
diva. One of her specialisms is Verdi roles at the Metropolitan Opera
New York. She has been heard in venues across Europe - for example in
Vienna - and also in Asia. She also has the solo parts of Tippett’s
Child of our Time in her repertoire.
Her accompanist Sandra Lutters is ideal. One feels that she plays with
the written notes a little. That is all to the good, adding flourishes
and being sensitive to rubato and dynamic contrast. She has a much needed
sense of theatricality and the notes tell us that she also acts and
The versions used represent an intriguing mixture of approaches by seven
varied composer/arrangers. Just to give you some examples. Deep River
is what you might call a standard arrangement (by Burleigh) with interesting
but undisturbing harmonies. In Guide My Feet,arranged
by Hairston, the piano does not enter until half a minute has elapsed.
Then there is a passionate build up of tension until a quiet ending
ensues. Great Day, arranged by Hal Johnson, gives the disc its
title. It is colourfully worked to include three spirited backing singers.
Interesting piano textures and harmonies are offered by Sandra Lutters
herself in the lovely This Little Light. Burleigh’s arrangement
of There is a Balm in Gilead ends the disc. It has a wild and
exciting piano part which concludes with a mad glissando.
I know that there will be many of you out there who like your spirituals
performed in the way I have described. I have attempted to point out
several positive features and if this is to your taste then you should
look out for this disc. For me the type of performances offered mean
that I cannot be enthusiastic about this disc. I shall be glad to put
it to one side for an extended period.
1. Feel the Spirit arr. Mark Hayes [2.37]
2. Honor, Honor arr. Hal Johnson [1.45]
3. Give me Jesus arr. H.T.Burleigh [4.50]
4. His Name so sweet arr. Hal Johnson [1.42]
5. Sometimes I feel like a motherless Child arr. John Carter
6. Joshua fit the battle of Jericho arr. Mark Hayes [2.47]
7. He’s got the whole world in his hands arr. Margaret
8. Deep River arr. Burleigh [4.20]
9. Guide My Feet arr. Jacqueline Hairstone [4.09]
10. Witness arr. Hall Johnson [2.31]
11. This Little Light arr. Sandra Lutters [2.39]
12. Steal Away arr. Burleigh [4.18]
13. Ride on King Jesus arr. Hall Johnson [2.30]
14. Let us break bread together arr. Hall Johnson [2.56]
15. Great Day arr. Johnson [1.45]
16. Were you there arr. Hayes [5.26]
17. There is a balm in Gilead arr. Burleigh [3.35]