Playbill

Sister Beatrice Ward sings traditional gospel every Sunday morning -- but not in a church. She praises the Lord at the Red Cat Jazz Café's gospel brunch.

"Jesus went everywhere," Ward responds when asked what it's like playing in front of a late-rising crowd instead of her congregation at Sugar Valley Baptist Church. "Jesus went to a wedding where he turned water into wine. Someone probably got drunk at that wedding. Somebody in the audience might need to hear something in one of my songs."

The gospel brunch concept juxtaposes a mostly secular white audience with a hard-core black Baptist ministry. On a commercial level, the concept seems to work in urban areas like New York, New Orleans and Houston. What's missing, however, is the sense of church community, the joyous call-and-response, the poetry, the holy ecstasy and the moral philosophy of the service. What remains is a purely aesthetic experience, formidable enough on its own.

Sister Ward's fourth self-produced CD is hard-core black gospel: a powerful lead voice balanced against a four-part choir, just as the preacher is balanced against the congregation. The ballad "Whoever Will" is a particularly fine example, as lead Frank Ward screams the top notes and the Angelettes Plus answer him with swooping cadences. Up-tempo tracks like "God Will Deliver" and "Down on My Knees" combine contemporary rock rhythms with the more traditional vocal call-and-response.

The members of the Angelettes Plus are active in various churches, including Sugar Valley Baptist, Christ Way Church of God, Mt. Olive Baptist and Second Church of Christ Holiness USA. If you get stirred by the songs on this CD -- and you will -- or by seeing Sister Ward at the jazz brunch, you might consider dropping in for the real thing at one of the above churches some Sunday morning.

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Aaron Howard