On the eve of Black Music Month a few weeks ago, pianist, composer and Penn Professor of Music Dr. Guthrie Ramsey sat down to talk about his new album, A Spiritual Vibe, Vol. 1, with musicology scholars from across the country including Alicia Lola Jones from Indiana University, Fredara Hadley from The Juilliard School and Mark Anthony Neal from Duke University.
In the conversation, Ramsey shared that the project features updated versions of spiritual songs that he has heard since childhood. “I wanted this [project] to sound different than the things I had been writing. That makes you feel alive as a musician – to keep experimenting with different sound worlds and not just get locked into one thing.” Ramsey goes on, “A key [to growing] is to hang around younger musicians and see what they’re up to.” Ramsey does just that. The album includes a host of talented singers and instrumentalists, including Vince Anthony, Bridget Ramsey (Ramsey’s daughter), Rod McGaha and Brendan McGeehan, as well as one of Ramsey’s students at Penn, Anna Fleming.
The opening track, “Think on These Things,” is an original composition that sets the text from Philippians 4:8 to an ethereal arrangement that mixes up analog and digital vocals over a catchy beat. Says Ramsey, “there was a moment in time if you were a jazz musician where you didn’t want to mix digital in with your stuff.” But these days Ramsey feels free to do so. In fact, he says, “I loved having a mix of digital and analog. That’s my thing right now.”
The album’s third track features Philadelphia singer Vince Anthony in a spellbinding rendition of “Motherless Child.” “If there’s anything that represents the pandemic on this project, it’s this song,” said Ramsey. The original plan was to record an arrangement of the song with his full band. However, when the country was shut down due to COVID-19, that wasn’t possible. So, Ramsey laid down a track using software that he had just learned and sent it off to Anthony and the album’s engineer, Doug Raus. A few hours later, Ramsey got the track back with the vocals. Even without collaborating in person, Ramsey said, “Vince gave it to me, magically. Just what I was looking for.” Eventually, the track was used to create this breathtaking music video, featuring Renaldo Maurice, an Alvin Ailey dancer.