BY ADAM PARKER
The Post and Courier
A sold out early show at McCrady’s, part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s jazz series, showcased settings of spirituals and hymns, performed by the Mark Sterbank Jazz Group.
For the “Holy City Homecomin’,” God must have been in the room.
Sterbank’s tenor saxophone ostensibly led the ensemble, but it was clearly an equal opportunity gig that featured excellent playing by trumpeter Charlton Singleton, Tommy Gill on piano, Fred Wesley on trombone, Herman Burney Jr. on bass and Quentin Baxter on drums.
The tunes included “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” “Deep River,” “Wade in the Water,” “Ride on in Jesus,” and an elegant original tune by Wesley called “For the Elders,” which paid tribute to the great trombonists of yore.
The gig ended with a romping version of “I’ll Fly Away.”
Evident was the musicians’ respect for the music. These are tunes they don’t play every day, and they imbued them with love. And the love made the horns sing, the bass beat like a heart, the piano radiate joy and the drums thrum with the pulse of life itself.
Though the tunes were sacred, they lent themselves to the jazz medium perfectly, and the effect was a thrilling, visceral, toe-tapping romp, inspired and soul-nourishing.
It’s worth noting that Wesley was once an integral member of the James Brown band, a funkster to the core; yet his performance and arrangements were so compelling Tuesday night that one can’t help believing he’s first and foremost a jazzman.
Burney, who now lives in Washington, D.C., was a prominent bass player in Charleston during the 1980s and has since returned occasionally to play with Baxter and other local performers.
The “Holy City Homecomin’” gig proved once again that the Holy City is home to a group of world class musicians. You can hear them at McCrady’s through June 11, and beyond.