Grounded in Baltimore's blue collar defiance and port city ruggedness, pianist Lafayette Gilchrist's style is fully his own, deliberately iconoclastic and aggressively blunt. And his third outingaptly titled Three
remains firm in its dedication to this rough hewn tone, even as it translates the big, horn driven sound of his first two recordings to the trio format.
Self-taught on the piano and an accomplished jazz autodidact, Gilchrest steadfastly refuses to overtly reveal his extensive knowledge of jazz history and recordings, instead sticking to original compositions. Perhaps it would have been easier to use the trio setting as an excuse to run through a series of polite standards, but Gilchrist seems congenitally opposed to taking the easy path.
Like his debut, The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist
(Hyena, 2004), and the more complex follow-up, Towards the Shining Path
(Hyena, 2005), Three
cruises forward on a series of deep grooves, each track taking time to build its individual mood and unique sense of movement. Absent the complex horn charts, which infused both previous albums with terrific energy and allowed Gilchrist ample space to build his bold soundscapes, Three
relies solely on Gilchrist's piano work to provide the necessary texture, dynamics, and harmonic and melodic development.
Tracks like the opening "Visitors, the crackling "In Depth, and the dirty grooved "Volcano prove Gilchrist more than up to the challenge, while others, like the strained "The Last Train and a slightly too long "Spheres of Existence suffer under their own weight. However, careful listeners will recognize that Gilchrist is committed to testing his own capacity, and an album wouldn't represent much of a stretch if there weren't a few missed steps.
In an era of musical navel gazing, Gilchrist's heavy, groove-dominated playing is refreshing for its outwardness. Extraordinarily distinct, it is far more the expression of an artist looking out at the world, translating its textures, its rhythms, the subtle inflections and tones, than the exploration of the artist's inner world. The result is a series of tough, captivating compositions that penetrate into the blood and bones.