It would seem almost impossible by this point for a jazz pianist to avoid common modern influences like Bud Powell, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner or even Cecil Taylor, but somehow Lafayette Gilchrist falls outside all of those parameters. On this solo concert recorded at the University of Baltimore in 2016, he shows a keyboard style built on materials like stride, gospel and go-go, the infectious party music from the Baltimore-Washington DC area, all turned into its own unique sound.
On several tracks Gilchrist utilizes the strong left hand technique favored by stride-era players but he uses it to maintain a steady, pumping beat which he adapts to many different tempos. On "For The Go-Go," it interacts with his prancing right hand to give a good approximation of the complex, multilevel grooves of go-go music. On "And You Know This" it is wedded to a playful Jamaican ska rhythm that underlies a rolling gospel melody. On "Happy Birthday Sucker" it robustly stomps against insinuating New Orleans saloon blues, and for "The Love Bind" and "Spontaneous Combustion" the beat is slightly slowed and provides sarcastic commentary to the fluttery romantic melody fragments coming from Gilchrist's right.
Even the tracks without the pumping left hand are oddly endearing hybrids. "Child's Play" leavens the genteel sound of early 20th century parlor piano with traces of blues and gospel; "Dark Matter" is a creeping blues infused with the playful hops and skips of Chico Marx, and "Old Whale Bones" is a dreamy Arabic dance. "Blues For Our Marches To End" was written after the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and it has the satiric but menacing feel of some of Charles Mingus' social protest works. On "Greetings" Gilchrist's rhythms veer into Thelonious Monk territory, tipsily strolling along the keyboard with relaxed but quirky lines that eventually overlap and thicken into a dizzying swirl.
Gilchrist is such an unique pianist. It is no wonder he has worked with individualists like William Parker, Oliver Lake, Cassandra Wilson and David Murray. His trippy lines, percussive rhythms and gospel traces show kinship to Monk, Don Pullen and Jelly Roll Morton, but he plays in his own individual style which he shows to full effect on this solo performance.
For the Go Go; Child's Play; Dark Matter; The Love Bind; Spontaneous Combustion; And
You Know This; Blues for Our Marches to End; Old Whale Bones; Happy Birthday Sucka;
Black Flight; Greeting.
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