Geoff Dyer at the New York Review of Books:
It happened that on the day the great saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman died I was watching a preview of a recently salvaged film by Sydney Pollack of the making of Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace. The album was recorded live at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, the city where, in the late 1950s, Ornette and his collaborators, Charlie Haden (bass), Don Cherry (trumpet), and Ed Blackwell or Billy Higgins (drums) had formed the quartet that would soon declare the shape of jazz to come. The idea for Amazing Grace was that Aretha would record an album of the gospel music she’d grown up hearing and singing in her father’s church in Detroit. This was in 1972. John Coltrane had died in 1967, Albert Ayler—the tenor saxophonist who, along with Ornette, had played at Coltrane’s funeral—in 1970. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been dead for four years. The unifying grace of the civil rights era had given way to the fractured militancy of Black Power and revolutionary struggle.
The Southern California Community Choir march into the church with the quasi-military precision associated with the Panthers or the Nation of Islam. They’re dressed in the kind of silver, intergalactic costumes that locate the promised land in an Afro-futurist vision of outer space. But once the singing starts they reach far back into history, to the foundational elements of black American music: spirituals and gospel.