For much of the 2010s, Baltimore-based pianist/composer Lafayette Gilchrist
has looked to larger ensembles to give voice to his expansive arrangements. In fact, you have to go back to Three
(Hyena, 2007) to find his previous trio outing. With Now
, Gilchrist embraces a more intimate setting in the company of drummer Eric Kennedy
and bassist Herman Burnie
. It's a triumphant, grass-roots return that showcases the dazzling breadth and originality of Gilchrist's pianism and the enduring appeal of the piano trio format. Weighing in at a whopping two-and-a-half hours, this double-CD offering could easily have stretched to a third platter, and it is testament to Gilchrist's deep well of creativity that there are absolutely no fillers among the sixteen tracks.
Not for the first time, Gilchrist revisits his veritable theme tune "Assume The Position"a searing instrumental response to police brutality, that sadly, is as relevant today as ever. Burnie's ominous bass ostinato, picked up by Gilchrist in the piano's lower register, sets the tone for a rumbling trio workout of dark hues and dramatic turns, the leader threading a string of funky motifs and rhythmically accented runs in a beguiling weave over Kennedy's blistering stick work. Similarly inspired, "Bmore Careful" sees Burnie on arco alternate between legato lines and riffing intensity, while Kennedy's restless rhythms and Gilchrist's probing runs build inexorably towards a thrilling climax.
The potent brew that is Gilchrist's idiosyncratic language tips a wink to stride and ragtime, and seemingly draws in equal measure from the quirky bebop of Thelonious Monk
and the more outré attack of Cecil Taylor
. Yet there is also a lightness of touch and an appreciation for space, evident on the meditative "Bamboozled" and in the easy swing of "Enough Said," both of which carry echoes of Ahmad Jamal
. Whilst these are merely hints of accents, the vernacular central to Gilchrist's voice resides in the go-go funk of his formative years in Washington D.C., heard to telling effect on the grooving "Rare Essence"a hypnotic mash-up of catchy hooks, epic melody, and burrowing improvisation.
Whether basking in the feel-good vibes of "Old Shoes Come to Life," whipping up a brilliant storm on the tumultuous "On Your Belly Like A Snake," or charting rhapsodic territory on the epic "Waiting Now (Sharon's Song)," there is an inescapable sincerity in Gilchrist's deliveryallied to emotional depththat is both affecting and uplifting. The trio also seduces at a gentler pace on ballads like "The Wonder Of Being Here," the Duke Ellington
ian "Purple Blues" and the quietly edifying "Can You Speak My Language," where Burnie's lyrical currents and Kennedy's deft percussive touches provide the ribbons and bows to Gilchrist's mazy hypnotism.
A spectacular feast that keeps on giving, Now
is not just one of the best piano trio outings of the year but arguably one of the year's best jazz albums period. Let's hope it's not another thirteen years before Gilchrist takes the dust covers off the trio format he so excels in.
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.