A longtime renegade who refused to move from his native Baltimore to New York in order to avoid the groupthink of a jazz scene, self-taught pianist Lafayette Gilchrist was best known until recently for his association with David Murray, along with some records on the Hyena label. Then his 2019 solo record Dark Matter appeared, and it was too direct, original, and stylistically diverse to be ignored. Now is the parlay upon Dark Matter, a music made more triumphant with the confidence that it will be accepted on its own terms.
The album is a tour de force, two-and-a-half hours of music that has no time for nonsense. The one-syllable title, three-piece band, and in-your-face playing speak to the immediacy of its mission. Gilchrist has fashioned a unique blend of influences—from ragtime to go-go, from country blues to postbop, with a distinctive dash of hip-hop—to tell his story. What ties it all together is his capacity for the kind of impetuous improvisation that leads to self-discovery. Many of the 16 songs here feel as if they were constructed out of jagged asides and steady loops of spontaneous combustion.
His twin passions are social justice and romance. Now opens with “Assume the Position,” which first put Gilchrist on the national map when it was used on TV’s The Wire in 2007. “Bmore Careful” is another take on police-community relations in his hometown, its volatile crests punctuated by hammered piano chords and Herman Burney’s bowed bass. And the name of a wry blues is “Bamboozled.”
A pair of love songs kick off the second disc. “Tomorrow Is Waiting Now (Sharon’s Song)” mitigates the album’s pervasive tidal-wave effect with Burney’s probing notes and drummer Eric Kennedy’s textural fills. And “The Wonder of Being Here” is Gilchrist’s version of a classic ballad and Now’s shortest song at 5:58. The spacious acoustics and instrumental separation between the three musicians underscore the urgency that makes Gilchrist’s music feel so essential.