July/August 2007

Lafayette Gilchrist

Lafayette Gilchrist reports that Money Jungle, by Duke Ellington with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, was the first jazz record he ever bought. He says, “It sounds like an orchestra being played by a trio. I was inspired to make something … big and grandiose just like that.”

It is a useful orientation to 3. Gilchrist’s strengths are his power, his willingness to use the entire keyboard and his undeniable originality. His approach is indeed orchestral rather than pianistic, with ensemble-like density and scale and big blocks of “section work,” rather than linear development coming off his right hand. Pieces such as “Visitors” and “In Depth” meet Gilchrist’s goal of grandiosity. They are not so much a melodic/harmonic process as an episodic series of melodramatic physical gestures.

But even atypical structural concepts need to create ideas with inherent musical interest. Gilchrist’s “orchestral” forms are often one clichéd device after another (a tremolo, a cute rhythmic hook, a hammered single note, a cycling block chord pattern).

And the rhythm section is a problem. Gilchrist hedges his bets on creating an “orchestra” and assigns drummer Nate Reynolds the role of funk metronome. Reynolds’ mind-numbing repetitions, rather than injecting energy, exist outside the music, a distraction. Max Roach he ain’t.

Originally published in July/August 2007

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