"Imagine pianist Billy Preston in the FBI witness protection program; he hides out in the Washington, DC, 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." - Detroit Metro Times
In March 2007, pianist Lafayette Gilchrist opened the Banlieues Bleues Festival in Paris, France with a set of solo piano. He was the under-card that night on a bill with the legendary Allen Toussaint. As Gilchrist finished his set and walked off the stage, much to his surprise, he bumped straight into the iconic New Orleans pianist and songwriter who had just watched his entire performance from the wings. Toussaint shook Gilchrist's hand and praised his playing. Later that night, again catching Gilchrist off guard, Toussaint summoned him from backstage to join his band for the encore. It's an anecdote that speaks volumes about how Gilchrist's artistry has been received. To further that point, Lafayette continues to tour the world in the piano seat of the David Murray Quartet. It's a cherished roll that recently led to a collaboration with Cassandra Wilson on the forthcoming album, Sacred Ground. If all that's not enough, it was the groundbreaking guitarist Vernon Reid who took up Gilchrist's cause ultimately leading to his signing at HYENA Records in 2004.
So with the praise of those who've come before him at his back, Lafayette Gilchrist is set to release his third album and his first with a trio, accordingly titled, Three. On his two previous two albums (The Music According To Lafayette Gilchrist and Towards The Shining Path), Gilchrist led his seven-piece band, The New Volcanoes, through a series of big, bruising, ambitious compositions that were built around muscular horn charts and unapologetically syncopated rhythms. This time he takes it back to basics. The roller coaster-ride compositions are still present and the funk will always be part and parcel with Gilchrist's vision, but without the four-piece horn section there's nowhere to hide. Thus the load is squarely on Gilchrist's shoulders.
I felt I needed to stretch out a little bit more and push myself in some new directions," explains Gilchrist. The sound I was hearing in my head is coming from when I first heard Money Jungle. That was the very first jazz record I ever bought. It's a trio record with Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. To me it sounds like an orchestra being played by a trio. I was inspired to make something that sounded big and grandiose just like that."
In the editorial coverage of the previous two Lafayette Gilchrist recordings, surprisingly little has been said of his Baltimore, Maryland home-base, which is certainly a unique origin for a jazz musician. However, remaining centered in a part of the country which isn't typically associated with cutting edge jazz has allowed Gilchrist to develop at his own pace, true to his own concepts. He pays zero mind to the current trends developing out of cities like New York City, San Francisco and Paris, while the economics of living in Baltimore allow him to forego many of the soul-sucking money gigs that often stifle creativity. Fellow Baltimoreans and the rhythm section of the New Volcanoes - bassist Anthony Blue" Jenkins and drummer Nate Reynolds - accompany Lafayette on Three.
If you listen, you'll hear this kinda Baltimore dialogue going on between me and our bassist 'Blue,' while Nate keeps it altogether on the drums, constantly reminding us of our roots," explains Gilchrist. Nate's one of my most important collaborators. He's not a jazz drummer, he ain't Tony Williams, he's coming from the straight-up Baltimore P-Funk tradition. He used to play with Wilson Pickett and Peaches & Herb. Baltimore's got its own function. My music speaks to and from that especially on tunes like 'The Enquizator's Request' and 'Spheres of Existence.'"
Lafayette Gilchrist didn't begin playing piano until he was 17 years old. His formative years were spent as an amateur boxer. The art of the boxing is apparent upon closer examination of his music. Compositions like Volcano Red" and In Depth" have unerring rhythm like a young Sugar Ray Robinson dancing across the ring, ducking and weaving, steadily jabbing, always searching for an opening, and when said opening is found, following with a flurry of precise blows. Gilchrist swarms the piano, constantly reinventing melodies by pushing and pulling them in new directions. When he hits upon an idea, he digs in deep and plays it hard with soul and conviction.
A lot of pianists on trio records stick to the middle to upper register of piano. I want to play the entire instrument," says Gilchrist. The nature of my improvisation has always been based in composition. Like on the 'Visitors,' I recast the melody in different rhythmic and harmonic coding. Each time I try to use the tune's head as fresh canvas paper. And spiritually, I feel visited by the spirit of James Brown. So it's that combination of taking groove-oriented music and making it spacious and conversational."
Three is the third chapter from a vital new voice and vision in jazz, and for that matter, all of American music. Lafayette Gilchrist is here to stay. But with each new statement, it's important to listen deep because within is a story that expounds upon the human journey: the cosmic ("Spheres of Existence") and the earthly ("Volcano Red"), the seeking ("The Enquizator's Request") and the explicit ("Last Train"), the temporary ("Visitors") and the intimate (In Depth). And finally, and most precisely, on Three, Gilchrist speaks to the internal and external ("Inside Outside), always striking a sublime balance.
HYENA Records will also release the download exclusive album, Duets: Live At The Vision Festival 2006, a live performance recording between Lafayette Gilchrist and drummer Hamid Drake recorded last year in New York City at the acclaimed improvisational music summit, The Vision Festival. It will be available solely as a digital release, available only for download at digital retailers like iTunes, eMusic and Rhapsody among others.