The arrival of Now from jazz pianist Lafayette Gilchrist (bandcamp page) coincided with a young person asking me, “What’s your favorite type of jazz?” The answer may change slightly here and there, depending on my mood, but no sub-genre gives me quite the same thrill, those elusive goosebumps, than a simple piano trio going full tilt and corralling the same energy you’d find in a big band. With Lafayette Gilchrist, bassist Herman Burnie and drummer Eric Kennedy, you get it all–superb arrangements of original compositions, three performers playing at the heights of their power and, most importantly, a beautiful and poetic vision.
This pure type of jazz is always a joy in its simplicity. So what’s better than an album full of this kind of playing? How about TWO albums? That’s right, Now is a double album, just one great melody after another, with solos that stretch the imagination. It’s an afternoon of killer piano trio performances. Lafayette Gilchrist’s trio, known as the group Specials Revealed, had taken a break from playing together. (Gilchrist was focused on solo piano recordings such as last year’s Dark Matter.) So instead of that vibe of performers who know each other inside and out, we get something a little more joyful with this reunion–“where have you been? I’ve missed you!”
Now is a masterful piano trio recording just on the basis of the playing, but there’s an underlying context in these compositions. I’ll give you a hint: Lafayette Gilchrist starts off with a tune that has become his signature, “Assume the Position,” which was once featured on The Wire. (Gilchrist has lived in Baltimore since 1987, so that’s a perfect match.) These instrumentals are thoughtful, dark and yet hopeful even when exploring subjects such as police brutality and the wealth gap. The aforementioned joy, however, is delivered by plenty of romantic ballads and songs about love lost.
That’s a necessary balance, and Lafayette Gilchrist knows it. When talking about Freddie Grey’s death in 2015, Gilchrist makes a very timely statement: “…when you come to Baltimore, you need to show some respect for the struggle within the town and how strong the people are on the ground here.” That puts the right spotlight on this fabulous music, which I enjoyed for the first time while the windows were open and I could still hear the police sirens from downtown Portland a few miles from where I live. There’s a directness in this proximity, of feeling connected to what’s going on. For that alone, Now is important and worthwhile…and absolutely gorgeous from a musical standpoint.