"Imagine pianist Billy Preston in the FBI witness protection program; he hides out in the Washington, D.C. go-go scene and then the jazz underground; he invents an unlikely pseudonym to go with his new style: a sort of twisted, funky, neo-juke-joint avant-gut-bucket."
- W. Kim Heron, Detroit Metro Times
This Baltimore jazz pianist is young enough to root his improvisations in funk rhythms rather than swing, but he's smart enough to give those muscular grooves real melodies and sophisticated harmonies. The results should transform Gilchrist from local hero into a major jazz figure."
- Geoff Himes, Washington Post
New York, NY - Baltimore-based pianist Lafayette Gilchrist returns September 27, 2005 with a brand new album entitled, Towards The Shining Path, on HYENA Records. Having made waves up and down the East Coast with his debut, The Music According To Lafayette Gilchrist, his sophomore effort presents an evolved musical vision that's at the cutting edge of the progressive jazz movement. Gilchrist, who was brought to HYENA by Living Colour guitarist, Vernon Reid, also serves as the pianist in David Murray's nonet and quartet. Upon the release of his debut album, which was Gilchrist's first national exposure as a leader, he was immediately hailed for his sweeping compositions that are rooted in jazz tradition yet equally alive with flourishes of funk, go-go and hip-hop. The Philadelphia Weekly put it best when stating, Within Gilchrist's music, rhythms dance like a spider pouncing on melodic prey, resulting in Ellingtonian horn reveries, Monkish piano lines, bliss-inducing bass bumps and rhythms that range from hip-hop thrusts to New Orleans blues shuffles."
On Towards The Shining Path, Gilchrist takes that initial spark and stretches it even further on series of performances that take no quarter resting on previous accomplishments. The arrangements are bigger, bolder and more ambitious, while his rhythms strut and swagger with burning focus. Gilchrist, who kept his skills as a soloist to a minimum on his debut album, steps out front and center on piano this time around. A one time amateur boxer, he comes out swinging from the opening bell, jabbing and weaving through an extended piano jaunt called New Jack." The title track, Towards The Shining Path," is a double time barnburner with an incessant rhythm and vigorous horn-line that one would be hard-pressed to compare to anything else in modern jazz today. Elephant Dance" conjures exactly what its title implies. A crushing, ten-ton groove with a perpetual stomp sets the composition in motion as a wailing, yet highly orchestrated, horn figure sounds across the landscape.
The music this time around shows the benefit of being exposed to David Murray and his big horn groups. He's influenced me to get away from simply writing tunes that are just built on grooves, but to focus more on integrating all the elements of the composition," states Gilchrist. The arrangements fully realize their potential where in the past we'd just jam on something."
Unbreakable" is the first of two ballads on the record. It's a sleek and sly number that sneaks up on the listener with a funky and infectious piano riff. The horns churn at a slow burn, maybe best described as the jazz version of quiet storm music. Next up is No Locomotion Blues" a tune that was inspired by one of those days where life's traction can't be begged, borrowed or stolen. As the tune's builds through Gilchrist's subtle sense of humor and playfulness on the ivories, it suggests that the protagonist ultimately finds the light and forward movement is restored. Thorn Bush" is the album's second ballad. A slow, mournful melody gives way to trumpeter Mike Cerri, who is showcased superbly throughout. Bubbles On Mars," which is an album centerpiece, incorporates all of the elements that have influenced Gilchrist as a composer. At close to ten minutes in length, he offers a musical journey that's built upon the dynamic interplay between every one of the members in his hardworking seven-piece unit, The New Volcanoes. As the tune opens, Gilchrist and his rhythm section establish a rock solid strut that pays debt to his roots in D.C. hip-hop and go-go music. The horns enter as extended figures that upon approaching their natural conclusion take hard left turns, continually discovering new avenues to twist and take flight.
The assumption that there's a such thing as genres of music has never been something I believed in," explains Gilchrist. I've always worked with idea that genres are simply elements to draw from, and those elements I've enjoyed, I've always felt belong together."
Towards The Shining Path closes with Unsolved, Unresolved" and The Juggler's Dream." The former is the album's most traditional piece and the only number in a trio setting. Here, Gilchrist tips his hat to forefathers like Horace Silver, Earl Hines and Wynton Kelly. On the latter, The Juggler's Dream," Gilchrist concludes his second album in epic fashion. With his music consistently lending itself to the imagery his song titles suggest, this might be the most successful yet in that regard. Jugglers, clowns, trapeze artists and human cannonballs are all present for the festivities and Gilchrist, the ringmaster, is center stage directing the utterly fantastic madness. Metaphors aside, it presents a visionary young composer who is creating music that is pushing the jazz tradition in entirely fresh, intelligent and exciting directions.
I've got to do my own thing, I'm not coming out of the 1940s or '50s, so it'd be wrong to pretend," states Gilchrist. I see myself as a child of the hip-hop nation. Hip-hop doesn't have a deep and artistic instrumental voice in its thing right now, and we need to represent in that vein. And we're not going to be all apologetic for being overly heady. Hip-hop as a culture has grown up a little now and the musical part of the 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."