Kirk Whalum: The Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter III

Religion isn’t just a part of Kirk Whalum’s life, it is his life. That’s what makes the third installment in Whalum’s fusion of gospel and jazz music such a true vision. You feel the power of Whalum’s spirit as you imagine him, eyes closed, playing his sax during a live recording in 2007 at the Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Md. This chapter is the best in the “book” so far, as a number of guest artists and musical styles coalesce into a two-CD project (also available on DVD) that is just heavenly.

Whalum’s smooth-jazz base should welcome this onslaught of musical energy; gospel fans will dig it all. The CD begins with Whalum solo on “Call to Worship,” where his tone and phrase are impeccable, and concludes with a reprise of the Stylistics’ “You Are Everything,” with Bishop T.D. Jakes and his wife, Serita, heaping praise on Jesus and each other that is at turns devotional and-gulp-sexy.

Originals are led by the funky and thumping “Fit to Battle” and “Rev.,” the latter dedicated to Whalum’s late father. “Africa Jesus Africa” is a bright reggae tune that segues into a powerful rap from Caleb the Bridge, and “It’s What I Do” is a soulful ballad with Lalah Hathaway. Other highlights: George Duke solo on “Because You Loved Me,” and Kirk’s famous uncle, Hugh “Peanuts” Whalum, channeling Nat “King” Cole on “Smile.”