Press / Music CD Reviews
“These loyal churchgoers in Chicago – acoustic pianist Rev. Dwayne Mason, organ player Leonard Maddox, bass-on-electric piano specialist Willie Jones and drummer Curtis Fondren – follow the right path to salvation, secure in the knowledge that the Maker smiles upon their strong attraction to blues and Billy Preston-in-the-pew r&b.”
Raise Your Hands And Stomp Your Feet, (11/15/06) -- People love the label "jam band" lately and these guys can fit in there just as well as in Gospel. My point is that labeling music is limiting and even unpleasant, but when writing reviews it becomes a necessary evil. So, I would say that anyone who likes groups with heavy keyboards, a groovin' organ, and heavenly music should check this one out.
The Gospel Keyboard Trio all hail from the Chicago area and have credits that would make pretty long scrolls. The bulk of the tracks have Reverend Dwayne Mason on piano, Leonard Maddox on the organ, Willie Jones on the bass piano, and Curtis Fondren on the drums. These three keyboard players all play together leaving plenty of room for each instrument. When you put this many keyboard instruments together you might expect some overkill, but this combination proves that theory wrong.
From the opening drum taps and organ of "Church House Rock" to closing piano of "God Will Take Care of You," this album has a soulful, positive, and open vibe. The best track opens up the album and the title says it all, "Church House Rock." This song has power, vitality, and some organ grooves to make any Booker T. fan drool. "Pray For Me" has a great melody line from the piano, soft, mellow, and praising. The piano pumps out "We've Come Along Way." The organ and drums hand out great support on this song. Bring out the bop on "When We All Get to Heaven." The song hops along with the joy of the Easter bunny. The message of the song is really felt here without the lyrics. "Cavalry" slows down the pace and is played with a gentle touch on the keys and soft brush strokes on the skins. The medley of "O-O-O What He's Done for Me/ World Can't Do Me No Harm/New Name in Glory" is another cooker that smokes the meat to a perfect flavor. This is another high-temperature song that goes fast and gets your bottom movin' and hands wavin' in the air.
All of the songs are arranged with tender care and precision. Everybody is very talented and knows the delicacy of the sacred music presented. The experience alone that these four men bring to the table is impressive. They bring together the sounds of many styles of music, including Jazz, Funk, Soul, Blues, and the obvious Gospel. The music is hard when it needs to be and softens up at just the right time. All of the members can be heard on any given Sunday in Chicago, so you know where to go to stand up and rejoice. If you enjoy the sounds of the Campbell Brothers or Robert Randolph I would recommend this. It is not as up-tempo, but is equally as powerful in a spiritual kind of way. Blues Wax Rating: 9
"The Sirens label, owned by Chicago-based piano aficionado Steven Dolins, has built an admirable catalog of recordings by acoustic blues and jazz pianists. Less recognized are the label's forays into gospel, including a historic 2004 teaming of Geraldine and Donald Gay with Jessy Dixon. This disc, the latest in the Siren's gospel series, showcases three gifted keyboardists, all Chicagoans: Rev. Dwayne Mason, Leonard Maddox, and Willie Jones.
With the caveat that gospel music – perhaps even more than blues – must be experienced in the ecstasy of live performance to capture its true power, there's a lot of living spirit on this record. Jones' combined piano-organ workout on When We All Get To Heaven elevates the dignity of a processional with the exaltation of the salvation-bound marchers. Maddox turns in an intricate, multi-textured piano meditation on Thank Him, uplifting yet understated. Jones' Walk With Me Lord, rich with both sorrow and hope, harks back to the era of Negro spirituals – although his elegantly structured block chords reveal the influence of Bill Evans, as well.
Even more satisfying are the trio outings, all of which feature Rev. Mason on piano, along with Maddox on organ and Jones contributing a pumping electric piano bass. Mason's style nearly overflows with ebullience – here is a man who is not merely joyful, but absolutely merry, in the service of the Lord. He sounds so ecstatic on God Will Take Care of You that he can barely contain – himself his treble splays and light-fingered runs are shot through with gladness. On Church House Rock he unfurls two-handed chord interplays with the gaiety of a man skipping his way to glory; even Pray For Me, a more solemn outing, sounds infused with the faith that not only will those prayers be made, they'll be answered.
This disc is pure delight from start to finish – it will please aficionados of good music, regardless of genre, and it's essential to anyone who cares about gospel piano."
“Music has always been an important aspect of African American religious worship and in the originality sweepstakes the Gospel Keyboard Trio earns an instant edge. As far as I can figure, their chosen instrumentation is unique within their idiom incorporating as it does acoustic and electric pianos along with Hammond B-3 organ to assemble an arsenal well-stocked with keys and pedals. Not that the Chicago-based band is strictly idiom-bound. Ample borrowings from funk, blues and jazz season their music to create an album far more inclusive and diverse than the average gospel platter.
Reverend Dwayne Mason claims the erstwhile leadership position and spends equal time officiating from acoustic and electronic ivories. Leonard Maddox mainly plays organ, but also sidles up to the acoustic Baldwin Concert Grand on occasion. Willie Jones completes the core trio and his role is the most unusual, furnishing bass lines for the group behind electric piano. If this roll call reads a bit confusingly, rest assured that the changing musical chairs that accompany each track are all annotated in the session notes. Supplying the rhythmic tinder for the band on all cuts is drummer Curtis Fondren whose sizeable session credits include gigs with Lester Bowie and Fontella Bass.
The dozen tracks in the program prance by swiftly mixing gospel standards and traditional spirituals with the stray original like the galloping Maddox-penned “Church House Rock”, which opens the disc with an ebullient rush of jaunty syncopations. Two electric pianos and an organ converge atop a romping cadence, weaving in stride touches and playful pulpit fervor, but never stepping on each other's keys. “Pray For Me” scales the pace back to a slow loping blues, Mason drafting a robust lead line at the Baldwin while his partners comp soulfully at his flanks. The bulbous breadth of Jones' bass tone coupled with a surprisingly nimble touch when it comes to crafting solos makes his contributions all the more meaningful.
Several later pieces find the keyboardists engaging Fondren in duets. Best among them is the pairing with Maddox on a lengthy and reflective reading of “Cavalry”. The two shear the setting down to acoustic ivories and brushes and delve deep into the sentiment of sacrifice at the nucleus of that bittersweet tune. The requisite medley arrives with a rollicking trilogy of spirituals strung together on the wailing thread of Maddox's greasy Hammond and a jubilant chorus of overdubbed tambourines. But the program falters a bit in its final few cuts, trading the fire of earlier numbers for a syrupy, more adult contemporary, vibe.
The Sirens specializes in this stripe of Windy City religious roots music; about the only other labels that come close to providing the same sort of service are Delmark and Arhoolie. Recorded by Bradley Parker-Sparrow at venerable Sparrow Sound, the fidelity of the date is clean and bright to complement the mood of the four testifying musicians. Sidestepping stereotypes, they succeed in summoning sanctified music without sounding the least bit sanctimonious."
“Recordings of gospel music instrumentals have been a subgenre pretty much since 1954, when Maceo Woods made a hit record out of his interpretation of “Amazing Grace,” performed on the Hammond organ and originally intended as theme music for Vee Jay Records owner Vivian Carter Bracken's radio program. Since then, Woods as well as Alfred Bolden, Billy Preston, and a host of other organ giants have released instrumental interpretations of gospel songs and hymns.
In this spirit, The Sirens Records brings us Heavenly Keys. This new release from the Highland Park, Illinois-based label that released the spectacular and beautifully produced showcase of gospel piano artistry from the fingers of Geraldine Gay, Jessy Dixon, and Nash Shaffer spotlights the keyboard talents of a combo called the “Gospel Keyboard Trio.” The Trio is organist Leonard Maddox, pianist Rev. Dwayne Mason (whose solo project was recently released by The Sirens) and Willie Jones on electric keyboard, with Curtis Fondren handling percussion. (Might Jones be related to the Willie Jones who recorded “My Thing” for Vee Jay in 1954 and whose single was one catalog number away from Maceo Woods “Amazing Grace””)
The project's first track, “Church House Rock,” is archetypal gospel music, the joyous, double-time sound you hear as interlude music at church or when the Holy Ghost enters the room. This track could easily have become Ms. Carter's radio theme music, were she still with us and broadcasting.
“Pray for Me” and “We've Come a Long Way” emphasize the bluesier sound of gospel, while “Cavalry” and “It is no Secret” tend toward a smoky late-night-jazz-club feeling. A nice medley of gospel songs is also worth repeated listening.
Whether your musical tastes tend toward the sanctified sound or not, you will enjoy the deft musicianship on Heavenly Keys and marvel at the not-so-subtle ways in which jazz, blues, and gospel blend together to demonstrate their common parentage.
… Regardless of your taste in instrumental music, these CDs [Heavenly Keys and one other CD being reviewed] prove that you don't need lyrics to feel the electrifying spirit of the gospel sound."
"For finesse, look no further than this Chicago threesome to set the pace. Leonard Maddox (organ), Rev. Dwayne Mason (piano), and Willie Jones (bass), together with Curtis Fondren on drums unleash a sleeper of an album on boutique label, The Sirens. Church musicians all, Heavenly Keys is their expression of praise, twelve cuts of jazzy razzle dazzle that delights in meshing church bump with bluesy groove. Cuts such as “Church House Rock” and the cover of The Clark Sisters' “Is My Living In Vain” make this a must-have set. Also look for the popular “What Is This?” and Cleophus Robinson's “We've Come A Long Way” and “Pray For Me” to generate excitement. Rounding out the album is a mellowed “God Will Take Care Of You” and the original “Thank Him” (penned by Maddox and Julia Porter Maddox)."
“Heavenly Keys is the second release under The Sirens logo featuring Reverend Mason who,on the first issue, was quoting as saying on his keyboard work 'Only a tenth of it is theory; 90% of it has been down loaded from the Holy Spirit through the software of annointing.' All four of the participants are heard on eight of the dozen tracks while each is spotlighted on the remaining four. The kickoff tune, written by Leonard Maddox, grabs you from the very start and won't let go. With it's one-two punch of sanctified piano and churchy organ, 'Church House Rock' will have true believers saying “Yes indeed!” The following track, 'Pray for Me' pulls one deeper with the feeling that Brother ray and others brought from the pews, remembering that the church gives but also takes from Blues & Jazz. It has always been a two way street. Selections on this ever engaging program are self-penned by the artists, traditional Gospel material, or writings from greats of the genre like Cleophus Robinson, Brother Joe may, the Clark Sisters and Edwin Hawkins. Not being a regular churchgoer won't diminish the enjoyment of this “churchifyin” music to any listener with blood in their veins. The power of effervescent piano and powerful organ will not be denied although the electric piano bass lines leave a little to be desired. An authentic slice of music ministry.”