Editors' pick

Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes

Jazz
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Editorial Review

Geoffrey Himes wrote about Lafayette Gilchrist in November 2008 for The Washington Post:

If jazz got its start by transforming such pop music as ragtime and swing into creative improvisations, why can't it do the same with today's funk and hip-hop? Opponents of the idea can point to hundreds of stiff, lifeless fusion and smooth-jazz records as evidence that it just doesn't work. Proponents can point to Lafayette Gilchrist's four albums for Hyena Records as proof that it most certainly does. His new CD, "Soul Progressin'," is his most persuasive arrangement yet.

Gilchrist, the pianist in David Murray's current quartet, grew up in the District and Prince George's County, listening to go-go and hip-hop before falling in love with Thelonious Monk. Like Monk, Gilchrist has a knack for composing short, catchy melodies with unexpected rhythm accents. By pitting one or two of those tunes against the stomping syncopation of funk and hip-hop, he can get several rhythm patterns going at the same time, thus enjoying both the elasticity of jazz rhythm and the visceral thud of today's pop music.

You can hear how he does it on the title track of his new album. He opens with a jittery, bluesy, unaccompanied piano figure: one melody in his right hand, another in his left. Drummer Nate Reynolds and bassist Anthony "Blue" Jenkins soon come in with a rock-steady funk groove, followed by the band's five-member horn choir, which echoes and then twists the piano intro. The horns switch to a second theme, and the rhythm section starts dropping and adding beats to each repetition of the groove, so it's always changing. By the time the solos start, there's so much invention going on that it's unmistakably jazz -- even if the main pulse is as modern as this morning's radio.