Ruth Naomi Floyd: Walk and Not Be Faint

The ease of producing CDs and the proliferation of small, independent labels is broadening exposure for many artists, including divergent, rising-star vocalists supported by solid musicians. With her rich mid-range voice, Ruth Naomi Floyd dutifully serves the niche market of gospel-jazz.

Floyd teams up on the 14 tracks of her third Contour release, Walk and Be Not Faint, with album producer-pianist James Weidman, inventive drummer Mark Prince, guests Bobby Zankel (sax) and Talib Kibwe (flute) and others. The instrumentalists’ imaginative expressions occasionally eclipse the obviously well-trained mezzo-soprano, who’s been lauded for her refined gospel-jazz combination. While she’s a skilled jazz interpreter (which she proves on a gorgeous version of “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing”), her accrued discography primarily expresses her Christian faith. Floyd serves the Lord well on this recording. However, from a musical standpoint she fails to grab you with the same intensity of track two. Titled “One In the Spirit,” that’s a joyous, stirring adaptation of the hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” performed with her quartet featuring Zankel. Philadelphia-based Floyd ignores the bluesy tinges one might expect. Instead, her robust, impressionistic vocal escapades lean more toward concert stage than intimate jazz club, and thus come off as a bit too showy.