By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
The Angeles Chorale opened its 40th anniversary season by reprising one of the most popular concerts in the ensemble’s history, an evening of Gospel music. It proved to be a savy choice; the performers (including a sizzling sextet of instrumentalists, two soloists and the chorale’s be-bopping artistic director, John Sutton) were hotter than the sweltering non-air conditioned sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Pasadena. For one of the rare times, the marketing tagline, “Unbridled Joy!” nailed it.
The 54 singers in the Pasadena-based chorale wore multi-colored casual tops and sang about 80 minutes from memory (the program, performed without intermission lasted a little over two hours). The chorale’s diction was so impressive that even though the texts were printed in the program that was a waste of paper except for when baritone soloist Darnell Abraham sang.
Freed from the shackles of holding music scores and/or folders, the singers — with a couple of exceptions — bounced and swayed to the music with joyful exuberance on their faces as did Sutton, who was fully in charge throughout the performance. It wasn’t how an African-American choir would have sung the program but it was exciting and performed with a high degree of polish.
After 20 minutes or so, the audience got into the swing of things. Part of the early lethargy was the heat both outside and inside (Sutton suggested people think of the evening as a Richard Simmons workout and fan with their programs in time with the music). However, when Tenor Saxophonist Ramsey Castaneda, soprano Eyvonne Williams and the chorale performed a gripping rendition of Mark Hayes’ arrangement of Here’s One, everyone was hooked. By evening’s end (an encore written and led from the piano by Byron Smith) all were on their feet stomping and screaming.
The instrumental ensemble — Castaneda, pianist Byran Pezzone, Moses Sun on guitar, Sean Barrett bass guitar, Greg Mathieson on a Hammond B-3 organ, and Bryan Taylor on a drum set — played wonderfully, especially in Robert Ray’s Gospel Mass, which concluded the formal portion of the program.
As heard from a balcony seat, the instrumentalists occasionally overpowered the choir and Abraham, but when 50+ singers from the Azusa Pacific University Choir joined the Angeles Chorale for the last three pieces of the Gospel Mass the balance evened out nicely. Pezzone offered a nicely nuanced bridge to help the choristers get into the choir loft and each of the instrumentalists played hot jazz riffs during the final portion of Gospel Mass.
The evening was dedicated to the memory of Justin Carr on what would have been the former Harvard-Westlake student’s 18th birthday. The Altadena resident (he and his family lived next to Sutton and his wife) died from an undiagnosed case of idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy while in a swimming workout on Feb. 22, 2013 at the school.
After a screening of a CBS-2 Emmy-award winning news segment on the tragedy, Carr’s parents, Darnell Carr and Susan Toler Carr, came on stage and discussed the Justin Car Memorial Fund (www.justincarrwantsworldpeace.org). Perhaps the most meaningful moment was the revelation that a San Fernando Valley high school had tested their student-athletes and discovered one with the disease before it could result in the kind of tragic accident that killed Justin.
For the record: the other pieces performed were Wondrous Love, Ain’t Got Time to Die, Lord I Know I’ve been Changed, and City Called Heaven.
• Although I realize the concert was a significant event in the chorale’s history, the constant running around of the videographers and photographers proved to be distracting.
• The chorale’s next concert will be a holiday-music performance on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at FUMCP. Information: www.angeleschorale.org
(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.