For its first two minutes, “He Turned It” behaves as a casual music listener might expect it to behave.
The song begins as a piece of thoughtful piano jazz-pop reminiscent of the music on Stevie Wonder’s mid-’70s albums. Then a big band crashes into the mix and the song begins to rock, sway and grow in startling directions.
Singer Tye Tribbett and his bandmates begin introducing elements from arena rock, soul, ragtime, Caribbean music and the hymnal. The history of 20th century American music goes crashing by in 10 minutes of exuberance and praise.
“He Turned It,” arguably the most critically acclaimed recording released by a New Jersey artist in 2013, is the climactic track of “Greater Than,” Tribbett’s fifth album — a varied, inspiring and creative set. Grammy voters took note of the album’s brilliance: This January, the Camden artist walked away from the Staples Center in Los Angeles with two trophies.
As Christians around New Jersey celebrate the spiritual renewal that Easter represents, in more ways than one Tribbett is reinventing what it means to spread that message through music.
“I like to think that I bring good news through my music: that trouble is not the end. Whether or not you’re a Christian, you go through hardship and storms,” Tribbett, 38, said. “Our music — gospel music — is going to become more relevant to all people.”
During his growing up years in Camden, Tribbett recalls, his family was loving but strict. There were no house parties, club hopping or hanging out in the streets. His music-loving parents attempted to limit his exposure to mainstream music.
“I was kind of sheltered,” says Tribbett. “It wasn’t really the streets. I didn’t really feel what people feel when they demonize Camden. My experience was church and family and music.”
But his parents instilled a love for gospel in Tribbett early on. His father and namesake, a pastor, played organ at the El Bethel Church of Christ in Camden. Neicy Tribbett, the singer-songwriter’s mother, has been an on-air personality and musical director on gospel-friendly radio stations in Philadelphia and New York since 1990; she’s currently the co-host of “Afternoon Praise” with Bishop Hezekiah Walker on WLIB (1190 AM, New York).
“I remember some days my mom would wake us up playing music,” said Tribbett’s sister DeMaris Toy. “My brothers were very musically inclined.”
By the time he was a teenager, Tribbett had adopted the piano and organ as his primary instruments. He and his brother Thaddeus Tribbett would play music in their garage regularly after finishing their homework. At first they played gospel and jazz covers, but later started to add their own twists to the music.
“That would grow until the little covers became a whole song,” Tribbett said. Soon other musicians joined them in the garage playing every day.
Around 1999 Tribbett’s parents got divorced, prompting a period of self–reflection that included experimenting with other genres more often. “I kind of went on my own (musical) journey and my own spiritual journey,” he said.
Tribbett was drawn to genres that accommodated harmonic and musical development, gifted soloists and daring composers.
“I love all kinds of music,” says Tribbett. “Pop is cool. But once I was allowed to listen to other things, I did get into progressive bands and jazz fusion. Some of my first listening outside of gospel were to (electric Miles Davis sideman) Marcus Miller, Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report, Dream Theater. That stuff to me is amazing.
“I didn’t listen to much R&B or hip-hop. I love it, but so much of that music has loops, and that means the same thing over and over.”
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SOURCE: The Star-Ledger