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Live in Berlin
I first heard pianist Lafayette Gilchrist in 2003, playing a one-night-stand duo gig with reed colossus David Murray. Gilchrist honed his chops in Baltimore and DC and worked under the national radar until Murray took him under his wing. The set wasn't totally successfulit was poorly attended and (perhaps because of that) Murray seemed ticked off. In any event, it never quite jelled. Still, Gilchrist had his moments, a peculiar musical intellect at work with a touch of Andrew Hill's jagged darkness.
Cut to January 2007. Murray is leading his newly formed Black Saint Quartet through its opening set at Jazz Standard and my mouth is agapeit may be the most perfect set I've heard in 25 years of attending jazz. And Gilchrist, as much as established geniuses Murray, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Andrew Cyrille, is equally responsible for it, holding down the center with an orchestral left hand and splitting for the far edges whenever possible, all gospel and blues one moment and duskily dissonant the next, constantly subverting expectations with what seemed a bottomless bag of idiosyncratic tricks.
So if Soul Progressin', Gilchrist's fourth recording as a leader, is a bit of a disappointment, it may be due to the unfair bar set for him. Make no mistake, there's certainly much worth hearing on the new disc: over dark, funkified grooves provided by his seven-piece working band, the New Volcanoes, Gilchrist tosses off wonderfully eccentric, sharp-toothed lines that somehow stay saturated in churchy blues no matter how far out he strays. But while there's an appealing, noirish malevolence in the vamps to which the Volcanoes are mostly confined, they're ultimately too simple and repetitive to sustain interest over the course of the disc, no matter how arresting Gilchrist's own playing. What the record could use is another track or two like the short, contemplative "Uncrowned," which Gilchrist takes solo.
Better is Live in Berlin, the Black Saint Quartet's follow-up to its 2007 masterwork Sacred Ground. With the excellent Jaribu Shahid replacing Drummond and Hamid Drake in for Cyrille, the band tears into five terrific tunes from the saxophonist's extensive catalogue. Though most of the tracks each hit a quarter-hour or moreonly Sacred Ground's profoundly sad "Banished" keeps to a relatively modest six minutesthe group's intensity never once flags. If you want to hear what Gilchrist can really do, check out his fractured, driving work on the rollicking opener "Dirty Laundry" or listen to the sensitivity with which he comps in counterpoint to Murray on the dreamy closer "Waltz Again," then lets loose a solo that spills with all the poetry of falling rain. As for Murray himself, there isn't a more gifted musician on the planet and on Live in Berlin those prodigious gifts are on high display. Whether crying out in baffled anguish on "Sacred Ground" or joyously jumping octaves on the Coltrane-ish "Murray's Steps," he's endlessly inventive and relentlessly uncompromising. The man just continues to astonish.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Soul Progressin'; Between Us; Come Get Some; Uncrowned; Those Frowning Clowns; Detective's Tip; Many Exits No Doors.
Personnel: Lafayette Gilchrist: piano; John Dierker: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Gregory L. Thompkins: tenor saxophone; Gabriel Ware: alto saxophone; Mike Cerri: trumpet; Freddy Dunn: trumpet; Anthony "Blue" Jenkins: bass; Nathan Reynolds: drums.
Live in Berlin
Tracks: Dirty Laundry; Banished; Sacred Ground; Murray`s Steps; Waltz Again.
Personnel: David Murray; bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Lafayette Gilchrist: piano; Jaribu Shahid bass; Hamid Drake: drums.