Marquis Hill: The Way We Play

"A comprehensive vision": Marquis Hill

Marquis Hill, not yet 30 and based in both his hometown of Chicago and in New York, is one of the most promising jazz musicians to gain a national reputation in recent memory. He’s a remarkably gifted trumpeter, with a technical command that can evoke heroes like Donald Byrd and Freddie Hubbard without getting too close to the source, and a composer-bandleader whose music and working group, the Blacktet, boast a comprehensive vision. Hill received first place at the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, and this Concord Jazz debut is the result of a generous prize package. And although it follows a few fine if modestly distributed recordings, it comes off like a definitive introduction.

Hill’s previous albums featured original music, but this one is filled with standards and not-so-standards-an old strategy for a hotshot player making a big entrance, and one that Hill revises by using his Blacktet instead of a prestige rhythm section. Of course, nothing better betrays the true nature of musicianship than a standard tune.

With alto saxophonist Christopher McBride, vibraphonist Justin Thomas, bassist Joshua Ramos and drummer Makaya McCraven, a rising progressive-jazz star in his own right, Hill melds live laptop-sounding rhythms with taut, contemporary postbop fire on Gigi Gryce’s “Minority” and Horace Silver’s “Moon Rays.” “Maiden Voyage” is turned into atmosphere, and “Straight, No Chaser” sidesteps the beat-making influence for hard-core swing. A closing take on Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” featuring only Hill, Ramos and guest percussionist Juan Pastor on cajón, is delightfully candid, like eavesdropping on a festival greenroom.

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Evan Haga

Evan Haga worked as an editor and writer at JazzTimes from 2006 to 2018. He is currently the Jazz Curator at TIDAL, and his writing has appeared at RollingStone.com, NPR MusicBillboard and other outlets.