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Ruth Naomi Floyd: Jazz Mass

On Root to the Fruit, her fifth recording for the Philadelphia-based Contour label, vocalist Ruth Naomi Floyd artfully blends Christian theology and jazz with the help of a world-class ensemble including the great flutist James Newton, tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas, drummer Ralph Peterson and pianist James Weidman, who also produced the session. Floyd’s unique repertoire ranges from soulful, strikingly original interpretations of traditional African-American spirituals like “Oh, Freedom” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” to stirring originals strewn with biblical references like “The Bottle of Tears” and “Open the Door to Him” to dramatic renditions of Randy Weston’s “Where?,” Mary Lou Williams’ “Act of Contrition” and Antonín Dvoržák’s “God Is My Shepherd.”

“I grew up with gospel music and absolutely love traditional gospel music,” says Ruth, “but I also just love this idea where someone takes a piece of music and they bring their own experience and expression and gifts to it. And jazz is a brilliant way of doing that.”

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