Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gil-christ summarizes his musical approach this way: "I got this from David [Murray] and he got it from Ornette [Coleman]: 'Jazz is the teacher and funk is the preacher,' and that really drives me."
That's evident by the teeming funk, slicing grooves and percussive energy underpinning the tunes on Gilchrist's national debut release, The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (Hyena). Such songs as the percolating "Rumble" and "The Return of Jes Grew" feature arrangements with slashing, shifting horn charts augmented by Gilchrist's alternately elegant, bluesy and intense accompaniment, plus his superbly crafted, disciplined piano solos. The disc's eight tracks also reflect Gilchrist's refusal to compartmentalize as well as his preference for original, contemporary material rather than updates of the classic jazz canon. "For me it has never been about putting jazz over here in this corner and funk over there, or doing one tune with a rap insert and another that's straightahead," Gilchrist says. "When I sit down at the piano it all comes from the heart and really is all about music. As a player, there's no question that people like McCoy Tyner, Elmo Hope, Andrew Hill, Mal Waldron, all the great stylists, truly affected me. Duke Ellington's a prime influence on me as a composer, but so is Henry Threadgill as well as Steve Coleman and the M-Base sound out of New York. Man, I grew up going to the go-go clubs in Washington, D.C., and hearing those bands like Trouble Funk, Essence and Chuck Brown flailing away in the pocket."
Gilchrist's ability to blend these elements has attracted the attention of two other prominent bandleaders and players whose work defies categorization: David Murray and guitarist Vernon Reid, whose efforts helped initiate Gilchrist's deal with Hyena. "David came to Washington for a solo bass clarinet concert about four years ago," Gilchrist says. "We jammed later, and I sent him some stuff and he hired me right away. He's helped me greatly in terms of energy and intensity in the writing."