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As indicated by its title, New Gospel Revisited recasts the compositions featured on trumpeter Marquis Hill’s 2012 debut recording, New Gospel. But this outing alters both the personnel and the setting. Recorded live in 2019 at the Chicago club Constellation, the album features tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist James Francies, bassist Harish Raghavan, drummer Kendrick Scott, and, most dramatically in terms of sonic change, vibraphonist Joel Ross.
Most of the tunes are preceded by a brief, unaccompanied solo, one feature for each member of the sextet. As a result, the overall performance seems to replicate a respiratory system, with short breaths leading into lengthy exhalations. Yes, each composition has its own identity, but the 76 minutes of music wash over the listener more as a singular performance than as a presentation of individualized cuts.
The album opens with a sea of improvisation — collective free statements that offer far more promise than chaos — that coalesces into the longest piece, the 14-minute “Law and Order.” Here and elsewhere, Scott’s contribution cannot be overpraised; he can modulate between out-of-tempo rhythms and defined backbeats within seconds. Raghavan plays with equal dexterity and tact, and the soloists ride joyously atop and within the multifaceted rhythms. The addition of vibes brings a throbbing pulse to the mix, and Ross, an ambitious soloist, holds the spotlight throughout.
Hill has a bright, inviting tone reminiscent of Lee Morgan, and his pairing with Smith — their first on record — proves to be a win. The tenorist’s tone is drier, his solos a bit more coy, and his style meshes warmly with Hill’s. New Gospel Revisited concludes with “Farewell,” a solo feature for Francies who plays largely out of tempo with Tatum-esque flourishes. His final chords almost come to a complete resolution, a closing that seems at once surprising and surprisingly right. — Sascha Feinstein