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Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gilchrist’s wide-eyed approach to making music is informed by a convergence of influences that range from the music of his youth in 1980s Washington, D.C. — go-go, hip-hop and p-funk — to a rich palette of American jazz idioms. His unique, genre-bending sound is made more poignant by themes that are at the forefront of humanity’s transcendence. NOW, his self-released album, and first in a trio formation since 2007’s 3, spans two discs. The program comprises 16 originals driven by the most prescient themes of social justice faced by America today, peppered by ruminations of the heart. Featuring Herman Burnie on bass and Eric Kennedy behind the trap set, Gilchrist’s trio, Specials Revealed, weaves a tapestry of bold, deep-pocket layers colored by the many hues of its harmonic interplay. Opener “Assume the Position,” a previously released Gilchrist standard featured on HBO’s crime drama The Wire, decries police brutality as the pianist’s two-handed technique of opposing rhythms on the keys infuses a fourth dimension into the trio setting, while the urgency of his circular chord clusters are propelled further by Kennedy’s vigorous polyrhythmic workout on drums.
The elegantly crafted “Old Shoes Come to Life” is anchored by an exploration of the economic wealth gap. The beguiling, pensive melody swings subtly as it carries delicate improvisational lines on piano, while Kennedy accents with whimsically taut marching-band drum rolls. “The Midnight Step Rag” ends Disc One with an optimistic, almost playful quality unfurling in Gilchrist’s quirky lines as they billow into dizzying swirls nurtured by percussive accoutrements, shimmering cymbals and an extended tremolo toward the end to tie up any loose ends. This sense of hope and longing spills into the seconds disc’s opener, “Tomorrow Is Waiting Now (Sharon’s Song),” and extends to “Newly Arrived,” an introspective tune embodying a sinuous melody interlaced by Burnie’s unhurried bass lines. Gilchrist indulges the listener with a finale that showcases his nimble playing as he hovers just above and below the groove, straddling a duality that reflects the two faces of America. — Lissette Corsa