Lafayette Gilchrist - Dark Matter

Label: Lafayette Music, 2019

Personnel - Lafayette Gilchrist: piano.

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Baltimore-based pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, a member of David Murray Black Saint Quartet, has not been documented that thoroughly throughout his career. His newest CD, Dark Matter, marks his second solo effort and was inspired by the invisible force that holds the universe together. Played with freedom and recorded live, the 11 original compositions that compose the album come to life as a hub of styles, embracing jazz in a variety of currents - funk, blues, and almost indistinct hints of hip hop.

Regardless the amount of variations and contrasts that his music has to offer, Gilchrist coaxes the blues out of almost every note he plays. The genre irrigates tunes such as the chunky “For The Go Go”, a homage to the Baltimore-Washington D.C. funk subgenre go-go music (a unique regional style with which the pianist is very familiar); “And You Know This”, whose faintly spiritual aura is swallowed by a rock n’ roll-ish cadence that is also vividly felt on “Happy Birthday Sucka”; and “Blues For Our Marches To End”, a strutter written in 2014 as a reaction to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The pianist stirs “The Love Bind” with his disciplined stride piano technique, placing the bass notes in constant counterpoint with the ideas and flourishes delivered by an agile right hand. In turn, “Spontaneous Combustion”, whose title may suggest some sort of avant-garde spontaneity, starts with classical-like movements that, little by little, are overcome by a resolutely paced rockish cadenza. However, its flow keeps being interrupted by quieter lyrical segments. This sort of rhythmic variations are also a constant on “Child’s Play”, whose mutable parts beautifully integrate heartfelt melodies, bluesy figures, and soulful chords. There’s some sort of playfulness amidst the predominant affectionate tones.

Gilchrist’s sense of phrasing is fluent yet veers to pondering whenever the narrative demands it. To my ears, the darker and more reflective tunes are by far the most interesting. The haunting title cut, for example, bears this dark-hued, Horace Tapscott-fueled post-bop feel populated by subversive notes that simultaneously shock and astound. While implying a strolling tempo and negotiating lower regions, the pianist brandishes a marvel of a tune.

In the same line of the latter, the poignant “Old Whale Bones”, inspired by archeological digs, drifts with no apparent destination until vehement, boisterous chords finalize its journey, while on “Black Flight”, a melancholic tribute to the African-American WWII fighter pilots Tuskegee Airmen, Gilchrist covers the range of the keyboard in order to fuse dramatic, mournful, and enigmatic sounds with logic and precision.

Balancing elated and ruminative moods and ideas, Dark Matter is a valid, yet unexceptional offering from a mature pianist who doesn't give up searching for exposure.

Grade  B-

Grade B-

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Child’s Play ► 03 - Dark Matter ► 08 - Old Whale Bones


Fred Hersch - Open Book

Label/Year: Palmetto Records, 2017

Lineup - Fred Hersch: piano.

Open Book is another wonderful opportunity to get in touch with the compelling and always emotional music of Fred Hersch, an established pianist who, playing solo, presents three originals and four selected covers of disparate nature.

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The gifted musician confesses in the booklet notes of his 11th solo release that what gives him more pleasure lately is sitting down at the piano and let it flow to see what happens. That’s exactly the sensation we got when this record is spinning. It starts by conveying a delicate intimacy in its opening tune, “The Orb”, an original and very personal composition whose touching lyricism is freed by the magic touch of his fingers as he couples melodic and harmonic richness. Everything is surrounded by a glorious sense of dreaming.
 
Plainsong” is another original composition that reflects this state of melancholy, generating an idyllic crossing between jazz and classical genres. Its structure has nothing to do with “Through the Forest”, a ruminative 19-minute free improvisation that explores imaginary paths and trails of a secret forest. There are amazement, abstracted reverie, and dazzle in the depiction, but also mystery and an intermittent tension that is mostly created by the deep-sounding chords unhooked with the left hand.

Jobim’s “Zingaro”, also known as “Portrait in Black and White”, shows up with a heavenly aura, carrying all that crushing sentiment in the beautiful melody and harmonic progression.

Benny Golson’s classic “Whisper Not” is dissected with wisdom and perceptiveness, and then reconstructed with adventurous melodic counterpoint and ruling staccato voicings that, in an early stage, difficult the perception of which tune we are listening to. The main melody only becomes clearly discernible when we reach the final shout chorus.

In turn, Monk’s “Eronel" theme is delivered when most expected. Holding on to its natural bop gaiety, Hersch’s rendition exerts inventive rhythmic variations, stout phrases enriched with exciting passage notes, and attractive motifs. It diverges from Billy Joel’s lyric poem “And So It Goes”, which, interpreted with elegance, closes the album with a romantic touch.

As a curiosity, the previous solo album by Fred Hersch, precisely entitled Solo, also included one Jobim and one Monk song, and closed with a pop/rock piece, in the case, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now”. Regardless the observation, Open Book is another story and a wonderful one, replete with fantastic moments that should be enough to make you exploring it with no reservations.

        Grade  A

        Grade A

Favorite Tracks:
01 – The Orb ► 02 - Whisper Not ► 04 - Through the Forest