Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Listening to a gospel compilation tonight, feeling like a lot of rock and roll and pop music is watered-down gospel. The fervor -- Mingus & Roland Kirk understood the fervor of gospel music; they incorporated it brilliantly in some of their compositions; Coltrane & Albert Ayler borrowed from gospel singing's fervent, gravelly timbres in their ecstatic '60s free-jazz styles.

Pop and rock practices that originate in gospel:
* Handclaps.
* Most forms of group singing, including:
- call and response;
- co-lead singing;
- switching lead singers for other-than-narrative purposes;
- doo-wop harmonies.
* The gravelly vocal timbre signifying intensity, from Little Richard to heavy metal (much more gospelly than bluesy).
* Incantatory repetitions of catch phrases.
* Melismatic improvisation.
* The electric guitar-bass-drums-piano-organ line-up.
* Chuck Berry's double-stop electric lead guitar style (originated by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1941).

Gospel is so cental, so under-acknowledged, and so little understood in pop music history, I hang my jaw and shake my head in awe.

Struck by how many songs are about experiencing the presence of Jesus, like Hindu devotional poetry and song to Krishna. (Krishna and Christ are cognates.)

Struck by the primal existentialism of the genre: all about how to prepare for death.

Having experienced gospel music in its sacred setting a few times, I'm also struck by how inadequate the commercial recorded medium is for capturing it: records really do shrink the style, which is huge. A church service can last three-and-a-half hours, with music playing the whole time; the congregants can join the band whenever, so most of the music is coming from the front of the church while someone behind you beats tambourine; I've never heard the shrieking of congregants being possessed by the Holy Spirit on record, and it makes a spectacular musical effect. Records I've heard capture none of this. Some Roland Kirk and Mingus records have captured the gospel style's ability to go into overdriven super-fast tempos better than any gospel records I've heard; watching a band make that improvised, un-notated leap into the prestissimo tempo is even more exicting.

Amazing music.

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