There are albums that started out as great concepts that never quite gelled, though they still boast one or two transcendent moments that linger as an example of what might have happened with more time, additional planning or simply better luck. Duke Ellington’s 1962 collaboration with John Coltrane is a good example: it’s a very pleasant, listenable record, but nothing else on it matches the brilliance of “In a Sentimental Mood,” which opens the disc on a high note.
Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective is a case in point. Byrd started out as a trumpeter on some fine hard bop recordings before his career coasted to a close with the lackluster R&B of the Blackbyrds. The idea of placing a septet alongside a choir of wordless voices (in this case, the Coleridge Perkinson Choir) was inspired, but the music only becomes truly inspirational on one track: “Cristo Redentor,” written by pianist and arranger Duke Pearson and inspired by the sight of the huge statue of Jesus Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro.
I first heard the song via blues harp master Charlie Musselwhite, whose capacious catalogue includes two separate runs at the tune. This version of “Cristo Redentor” is from his 1967 debut album, and while Musselwhite’s playing is superb, I think he knocked it out of the ballpark when he revisited the song on Tennessee Woman. This version has borderline cheesy organ accompaniment instead of the later version’s gospel-derived piano, but concentrate on Musselwhite’s harp and you’ll get religion:
Harvey Mandel, the guitarist in Musselwhite’s Stand Back era band, took up the idea his own arrangement of “Cristo Redentor.” I’m not a fan of Mandel’s version, which pushes Pearson’s arrangement all the way into Muzak, but this animation is fun: