Pianist and composer Lafayette Gilchrist
has made clear that, in part, Now
addresses the racial and political conflicts erupting across America in 2020. The music is suitably intense and tumultuous. The album demands change while also reminding us that the violence and divisions splintering the country are not new.
The repression and oppression embedded in American race relations has been pervasive for an unconscionably long time. Gilchrest pointedly underscores this through pieces like "Bmore Careful," which pulses forward on a bed of anger and lament, as well as a reprise of one of his earliest, potent compositions, "Assume the Position." Both protest police violence.
Gilchrest's prominence has grown at a slow burn for decades, beginning with his initial, heavy-groove, go-go influenced early releases of the 1990s. His Baltimore funky-rhythm roots have never been excised and continue to form Gilchrist's musical foundation. Yet his national presence has expanded, as has the refinement of his touch, allowing even greater expressive precision to accompany his consistently rock-solid left hand. Now
returns Gilchrist to the trio format, joined by Herman Burnie
on bass and Eric Kennedy
on drums. Both bring distinct voices to Gilchrist's compositions. Burnie applies his spacious lines, as well as his emotive bowing, to great effect, as on "Say a Prayer for Our Love." Kennedy's kineticism and control, especially his use of cymbals, provides yet another source of the thumping grooves and subtle expression that define the album.
The two discs clock in at two and a half hours. This may be one of the album's few flaws, namely a surfeit of material. While no track in particular lacks merit or is repetitive, there is a risk the album may overwhelm listeners with less stamina, potentially distracting from its timely message of protest and hope.
It would be misrepresenting the album to suggest it stands solely as a protest statement. It includes hopeful and even joyful tunes like the aforementioned "Say A Prayer for Love," as well as the ode to love past, "Wonder of Being Here," and "Newly Arrived." Each of these flows from the victories, struggles and loves of daily life, as if to suggest that individual connection and our shared humanity just might be a light in the darkness.
The album confirms Gilchrist's ability to transform his musical genesis via continually advancing levels of maturity and experience without losing the strength and grounding of his origins.
CD1: Assume the Position; Bamboozled; Rare Essence; Old Shoes Come to Life; On Your Belly Like a Snake;
Say a Prayer for Our Love; Bmore Careful; The Midnight Step Rag. CD2: Tomorrow Is Waiting Now (Sharon's
Song); The Wonder of Being Here; Purple Blues; Newly Arrived; Enough; Get Straight to the Point; Can You
Speak My Language; Specials Revealed.