First things first: there is no doubt that Chris Walden's reverential Missa Iubileum Aureum ("Golden Jubilee Jazz Mass") is beautifully written and wonderfully performed by the LMR Jazz Orchestra, St. Dominick's Schola Cantorum and cantors Kurt Elling and Tierney Sutton. Is it jazz? That is another question, one not so easily answered. While there are elements of jazz, they are incidental and generally overshadowed by the more doctrinal aspects of what is essentially an homage to devotion and piety. And as its lyrics bear out, this is an explicitly Christian ceremonial.
What jazz components there are surface for the most part on the instrumental finale, "Thanks Be to God," the rhythmic "Communion" and, to a lesser extent, "Gloria," "Credo," "Sanctus" and "Agnus Dei." Several splendid solos from within the orchestra are uncredited (but the pianist is Shelly Berg, the guitarist Brian Nova). Elsewhere, the orchestra and chorus are dedicated to the service of holiness, as are Elling and Sutton, whose Latin phrasings are thoroughly convincing—at least to someone who doesn't speak the language.
Walden, a busy Hollywood composer and arranger who has scored more than forty feature and TV films and written more than 1,500 orchestral and big-band arrangements for a who's who of jazz and pop artists, was commissioned to write the Missa Iubileum Aureum to commemorate the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Ted Hall, a Napa Valley entrepreneur, trombonist and member of the LMR Jazz Orchestra. The eleven-part liturgical mass is basically orthodox in arrangement: kyrie, gloria, alleluia, credo, offertory, sanctus, acclamation, agnus dei, communion—with jazz slipped in to lend a stalwart and contemporary perspective.
The result is a canonical ceremony with a slight yet perceptible difference, namely the infusion of jazz. While jazz is by no means a focal point of the mass, there is enough to single it out from other works of its kind, and if the Grammies have a category that embraces such hybrids, it is almost certain to earn one. The high marks awarded here are not so much for the jazz content as for the over-all excellence of the composition and performance.