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Lafayette Gilchrist: Towards The Shining Path

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Lafayette Gilchrist is not the next Thelonious Monk. No one could be. But for a cat making just his second album as a leader, this composer/pianist, who also serves in David Murray's quartet and nonet, does suggest some pretty incredible parallels with the unique genius of "the only-est Monk.

For starters, Gilchrist rocks that 4/4 beat harder and funkier than just about any other pianist in memory. He plays as if rubber banded to the downbeat, and if Monk was around to play rock and roll piano, he'd be rockin' the beat like this. Second, since Gilchrist's piano playing digs so far down into the rhythm section, his rhythm section must be both powerful and elastic. Bassist Anthony "Blue Jenkins and drummer Nate Reynolds, fulcrums for Gilchrist's ensemble the New Volcanoes, have this covered.

Third, Gilchrist's work with Murray has taught him how to create, like Monk, musical constructions in which horn players—and tenor saxophonists in particular—are comfortable to joyously and expansively swing. And finally, his horn charts can groan and wobble, and yet rejoice, with all the emotional weight of a New Orleans funeral procession, choosing the right feel over "the right note nearly every time.

This music merits the optimism in the album's title. Gilchrist is working toward a different type of jazz fusion: merging traditional New Orleans, blues, and jazz piano with the pronounced rhythms of rock, hip-hop ,and funk. You can tell this from the hard-driving opener, "New Jack, which rocks hard and funky yet throbs with the swing of classic New Orleans, too.

Both "Elephant Dance and "Bubbles on Mars build up from the bedrock of Gilchrist's rockin' piano beat. His piano keeps the "No Locomotion Blues pumping while the rhythm section drives home the hard beat and the horns joyously twist and shout. If you're a purist, fast-forward to "Unsolved, Unresolved, a nod and a wink to funky jazz forefathers such as Horace Silver and Pete Johnson, cast in the classic piano trio format.

"I see myself as a child of the hip-hop nation, Gilchrist explains. "Hip-hop doesn't have a deep instrumental voice in its thing right now, and we need to represent in that vein. And we're not going to apologize for being overly heady. Hip-hop as a culture has grown up a little now and the musical part of that culture has to grow and expand with it. I see the music I'm doing as representing that 'cause it's where I'm from.

Track Listing: New Jack; Towards the Shining Path 3.Elephant Dance; Unbreakable; No Locomotion Blues; Thorn Bush; Bubbles on Mars; Unsolved, Unresolved; The Jugglers Dream.

Personnel: Lafayette Gilchrist: piano; John Dierker: tenor saxophone; Gregory L. Thompkins: tenor saxophone; Gabriel Ware: alto saxophone; Mike Cerri: trumpet; Anthony "Blue" Jenkins: bass; Nate Reynolds: drums.

Title: Towards the Shining Path | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Hyena Records

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