Call it a successful back-to-the-future gambit: Marquis Hill, the gifted Chicago trumpeter and composer whose career has played out at an accelerando since he won the Thelonious Monk Competition in 2014, has returned to the scene of his lauded 2011 debut for a second, even more thrilling take on that release’s sophisticated, stirring compositions. This time, he’s accompanied by a new band of blue-chip musicians: tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, drummer Kendrick Scott, pianist/keyboardist James Francies, and fellow Chicagoans Joel Ross and Harish Raghavan on vibes and bass, respectively. Hill’s tunes, and his own playing, sound fresh and smartly reinvigorated.
The sextet, feeding off an enthusiastic crowd at Chicago’s Constellation nightclub, brings the firepower right away (following a brief intro piece) with the sprawling “Law & Order,” at more than 14 minutes the longest piece on the album. A moody postbop burner, it’s constructed as something of a suite, its head sliding right into the leader’s twisty solo, then Smith’s keening romp, extended turns for vibes and piano, a smattering of drum-kit action, a restatement of the head, and finally a long, closing breakdown for unaccompanied bass.
The rising-and-falling contours of “The Believer” lead into mellow two-horn harmonies and some fruitful back-and-forth soloing by Ross and Francies, while “New Gospel” travels from pensive anticipation to a warm theme and another of Hill’s impressively exploratory, artfully constructed improvisations. “A Portrait of Fola” thrives on a lively starting-stopping theme, and “The Thump” builds its bouncy head on a funk-edged bass groove.
The leader goes it entirely alone on “New Paths,” and offers several similarly unaccompanied outings to bandmates: Smith on “Walter Speaks,” Scott on “Oracle,” Ross on “Lullaby,” Raghavan on “Perpetual,” and Francies on “Farewell.” There are no letdowns here.