December 2007

The Gospel Christmas Project
presented by Andrew Craig
December 22, 2007 Massey Hall Toronto
Music as the Gospel Truth
by Carol Lipson
Irrespective of the faith we were born to follow, gospel music taps into our collective spirit, takes us to a celebratory space. I entered Massey Hall with that belief on December 22 to hear Andrew Craig’s Gospel Christmas Project and left the concert with renewed conviction. I left too with a surge of joy, a sprint in my walk under the neon lights of Yonge Street, which were magically transformed that balmy winter evening.
At the helm of the musical feast was Andrew Craig: motivator, educator, part-time preacher, but above all, lyrical, versatile piano player and musically inventive arranger. Craig is a supreme musician for our modern age, fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz and new age genres with proportion, taste and skill. Leading on keyboards and the occasional heartfelt vocals, his plural musicality creates unity on stage. Saturday evening’s program, in association with World Vision, was an artfully sequenced revelation of gospel music. Masterfully, Craig paced the show, taking the audience from rousing choral gospel to reflective solo vocals, from the communal to a more intrapersonal dialogue with God. At one point, with the lights on, Craig engaged the audience in singing a traditional South African Christmas song in Zulu. We sang the lyrics phonetically as one element after another of the vital rhythm and horn section was added. Notable mention here must be made of Mark McLean on drums, Kofi Ackah on percussion, Collin Barrett on electric bass and Richard Wilson on Hammond B3 Organ.
Andrew Craig
Foregrounded were the four vocalists: Jackie Richardson, Alana Bridgewater, Kellylee Evans and Chris Lowe, who brought the sum of their voices as gifts to bear, vocalists chosen by Craig, no doubt, for their distinct qualities. And in answer to and support of these singers, the wonderful Sharon Riley and her Faith Chorale charged Massey Hall with the power of musical harmony as their voices lifted in worship. (Thankfully, after the first few songs, the mix of sound improved and more clearly delineated the richness of those voices).

A disciple (or reincarnation) of Mother Mahalia, Jackie Richardson evokes a sense of awe and tried-and-true life knowledge of the lyric and spirit of the songs she sings. Hers is a seasoned, deep tone, that of a sage, mother, musical sculptor. She can be at once, a tender caregiver of a musical script and a provocateur. Powerhouse Alana Richardson takes possession of a song, bringing authority and vulnerability to the music she makes, as was evident in her rendition of "What Child Is This". Kellylee Evans leaves her own musical thumbprint, opening up notes gradually, sustaining them, winding them down, mirroring the vocal shape of the musical line with her body. With Chris Lowe, we shared in the exquisite timbre of the tone, in the purity, precision, wide range and artistic nuance of his vocals. For me, a highlight of the evening was Lowe’s sweet and soulful rendition of "Little Drummer Boy". Andrew Craig envisioned the song so that the narrative came alive with McLean on the drums and Ackah on percussion, recreating in whole the musical persona of the fictional protagonist.

I gave witness that evening to vocals of boundless joy, consummate skill, vocals that were, at moments, a little weathered around the edges, which made the singing all the more plausible, a truer testament to our human capacity to imagine, to believe, to give thanks, and to sing. While I am not a Christian, the evening’s music was a gospel of truth that brought me closer to an understanding and appreciation of a faith I have never practised. If that was Andrew Craig’s intention, if that was his vision, he succeeded. Hopefully, Saturday’s night performance at Massey Hall will become a tradition in Toronto for home grown gospel talent to usher in the Christmas spirit.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Carol Lipson
• • • • • •
The Live Music Report
• •

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2007