Alton Merrell - " You're The Reason"
Review by Terrence Richburg © 2009
There are times when God takes us on a journey where we discover blessings totally unexpected. We encounter an overwhelming impact to the very depths of ourselves without warning. The feeling is similar to that sudden plunge during a freshman rollercoaster outing, when the level of emotion exceeds the ability of your mind to comprehend what just happened. But with a highly anticipated sophomore ride only then do you begin to regain your composure and acquire an appreciation for how wonderful the experience really is. Such is the music of pianist, keyboardist, educator, composer, arranger and producer, Alton Merrell . With his exhilarating Gospel Jazz CD release, You're the Reason , Alton exhibits a level of expertise as one of tasteful maturity, characteristic of someone who has been playing in the Jazz world for decades. Yet, Merrell's stylistic approach is brilliant and animated as with someone youthfully charged and ready to take the world by storm with fresh ideas and creative enthusiasm.
Alton Merrell from the inception of his musical journey aimed his sights high and his commitment to excellence firm holding a Master of Music Degree in Jazz and Classical Piano performance from Youngstown State University. Merrell also holds a Bachelor of Music Degree in Music Education, graduating Cum Laude, and is now pursuing his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh.
Alton is an artist and musician well-acquainted with the panorama of Gospel and Jazz music, having ministered and performed with such greats as Kim Burrell, Martha Munizzi, Donnie McClurkin, Alvin Slaughter, Dorothy Norwood, LaShun Pace, Rev. Timothy Wright, Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, James Moody, Phil Woods, Danilo Perez, and the list of all-stars goes on.
Merrell's musical zeal has yielded him many honors, awards and coveted opportunities, including: Gospel Jazz Artist of the Year, American Gospel Music Award, Best New Gospel Jazz Artist & Producer, Capital Jazz Festival Competition Finalist (2008), and YSU Jazz Quintet Member of the Cultural Exchange Jazz Group performing in Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hangzhou, China (Summer 2004), which included performances of several Merrell works and arrangements.
Alton performs with his instrumental and vocal ensemble, " Alton Merrell & Company, " blending the musical styles of Jazz, Gospel, Funk, and Classical. Merrell affirms that the group's mission is "to create music that will minister love, healing, joy, deliverance and peace to people around the world." As the JGC New Kids on the Block Feature, it is undoubtedly apparent that Alton Merrell's pursuit of his admirable vision achieves fruition status on his debut CD, You're The Reason .
As a project, You're The Reason is a refreshing display of what happens when technical proficiency meets inspired ingenuity in a nuptial blend blessed by God's sovereignty. This CD is packed full of jaw-dropping compositions, distinctive Jazz harmonies, soul-stirring arrangements and grooves, and a virtual clinic of explosive improvisational solos.
Featuring the lead vocals of Ashley Merrell , the delightful opening title cut immediately highlights Alton's amazing command of compositional aptitude and biblically sound lyrics. Merrell reveals his desire to achieve the essence of music ministry and present artistic worship with joyful thanksgiving. But quickly Merrell moves to "Get Yo Praize On," a funk-fest, Gospel Jazz groove featuring Alton on all instrumentation and his mastery of both the R&B and Jazz stylistic vernacular. This is but one of the many selections that accentuate the improvisational domination at the anointed hands of Alton. Other favorites on the project include his modern Latin-Jazz ensemble original, "Sambalujah," the imaginative spirit-pumping, funk Jazz arrangement of the great church hymn, "I Need Thee Every Hour," and Merrell's inspired solo piano interpretation of the Richard Smallwood classic, "Total Praise."
There is no doubt that Alton Merrell has exploded onto the music arena of Gospel Jazz as a major player and a force to be reckoned with. His captivating CD, You're The Reason , more than adequately proves Alton's ability to stand as one of the best musicians and artists around. But even more, because of Merrell's obvious thirst for distinction and desire to reach for the fullness of his artistry, there really isn't a limit to what he can produce musically as God carefully leads and advances his career goals and opportunities. I look for Alton Merrell to continue to achieve great things for now, for God and for eternity.