Crossing the borders between jazz and religious music, singer Jeff Baker took on a mission to make religious music in a jazz form, or to add some religion to otherwise staid jazz. The main change in the music is a heavy dose of high-end instrumental improvisation in the pieces that come from the religious repertoire. Songs from strong traditions are to some degree standardized by their definition as traditional. That's ignored here, adding clever changes to hymns to put them into a more modern and artistic mode -- and yet to give them more "soul," as it were, something that's sometimes missing, ironically, from spiritual music. The instrumentalists on Of Things Not Seen
make the music something other than that which it once was: Bill Anschell's piano meshes with Jeff Johnson's bass to create a full-fledged nightclub sound, but with a twist -- the twinkling and clarity add a bit to the coloration but take away the standard smoky tones of a nightclub riff in favor of a more joyous or hopeful sound. There are plenty of surprises in the album, as traditional songs get transformed, and it's likely the transformations themselves that cause the bulk of the surprise. Within those transformed works, however, it is perhaps surprising that the most lasting and memorable pieces are the ones in which Baker doesn't embellish his vocals and the bandmembers don't ornament their playing greatly -- simpler, more intimate pieces are what ultimately steal the show in Of Things Not Seen.