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Most instrumentalists think of themselves as storytellers. During performances, in the back of their minds, they sometimes wonder, “Is the audience hearing just a random collection of notes or does it understand the picture I’m painting?” Those listening to Dark Matter, Lafayette Gilchrist’s self-produced 11-track solo outing, will quickly understand what the pianist is up to. For the most part, they will be delighted to settle in and savor how the Washington, D.C. native taps a range of styles to produce a program laden with aural curiosities.
A longtime member of saxophonist David Murray’s working band, Gilchrist is a self-described member of hip-hop culture. On Dark Matter, however, he’s more attracted to other influences. On several tracks, including “Greetings,” the set’s gently rollicking closer, it is his husky embrace of the century-old stride style that creates a lasting impression. “Old Whale Bones,” on the other hand, is a showcase for the pianist’s ample technical abilities and mastery of classical modes. The tune boasts an entrancing melody and delicate, cleanly articulated pianistics. “Child’s Play” lives up to the promise of its title via Gilchrist’s whimsical reading, while “Dark Matter” defies the ominous tone its title suggests as the pianist demonstrates various ways to reinvent a catchy to-bar motif. “Black Flight,” among the set’s most unstructured performances, relies on a gentle yet probing attack and the dramatic effect of momentary pauses.
The set opener, “For the Go-Go,” celebrates go-go, a style of funk music indigenous to Washington D.C. that has become a cornerstone of Gilchrist’s own style. In the pianist’s hands, it comes off as carefree party music and all but makes you want to shout, jump and start dancing. —Mark Holston