Baltimore-based pianist Lafayette Gilchrist stripped away the five-piece horn section of his octet, The New Volcanoes, fron his previous session, Third (Hyena Records, 2007), for an intimate trio exploration of hard- hitting funk. Soul Progressin' is the third album in his discography to feature the massed horns of The New Volcanoes, following in the footsteps of The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (Hyena, 2004), and Towards The Shining Path (Hyena, 2005).
Gilchrist draws from local Washington D.C.-based go-go, progressive hip-hop and old school soul rhythms for deep, funky grooves to drive his bluesy minor-key melodies. His dark, melodious writing has roots in Andrew Hill's harmonic sophistication, Thelonious Monk's angular intervals and Duke Ellington's earthy simplicity. This fertile combination of primal expression and studied invention are the same qualities that have made him David Murray's pianist since 2000. A bold and dynamic performer, his kinetic bass ostinatos and abstract excursions weave a rich, foreboding tapestry, while his sublime introductory cadenza to "Detective's Tip" and a tender solo piano meditation for the late Andrew Hill ("Uncrowned") reveal sensitivity and discipline.
The longstanding rhythm section of bassist Anthony Jenkins and drummer Nathan Reynolds provide Gilchrist and the horns with a solid foundation. Jenkins' pliant electric bass undulates with the subtlety of an acoustic, providing the ensemble with a solid pulse and an elastic harmonic underpinning. A compelling stylist, his solo excursions on "Come Get Some" and "Those Frowning Clowns" resound with unfettered freedom. Reynolds (a former Wilson Pickett sideman) is an old-school Baltimore funk drummer with a precise unwavering beat whose unaccompanied statements energize "Between Us" and "Many Exits No Doors."
The vivacious horn section (three saxophones and two trumpets) unleashes a multitude of expressive cadences that embrace half-valve techniques, multiphonics and muted growls while teetering on the edge of tonality. "Many Exits No Doors" finds them at their most acerbic, as they launch keening salvoes that coil into dense thickets of controlled collective improvisation. They mock and jeer the current leadership and their "years of official lies and needless war" (as detailed by Gilchrist in the liner notes) on the bluesy dirge "Those Frowning Clowns" with braying brass and pungent reeds. They also demonstrate restraint as they execute Gilchrist's complex contrapuntal horn arrangements on "Between Us" and "Detective's Tip" with cool, modernist harmonies reminiscent of neo-classical chorales.
Stylistically similar to the aesthetic concepts explored by fellow pianists Jason Moran and Matthew Shipp, but with his ear closer to the street, Gilchrist offers a revealing look at the developing crossroads between jazz and funk with Soul Progressin', a raw interpretation of the jazz tradition informed by contemporary beats.
Soul Progressin'; Between Us; Come Get Some; Uncrowned; Those Frowning Clowns; Detective's Tip; Many Exits No Doors.
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.