The Way We Play
This is first Concord Jazz release for the winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk Institute Trumpet Competition, and the recording contract was one of the prizes. With his Blacktet, that then included alto saxophonist Christopher McBride, vibraphonist Justin Thomas, drummer Makaya McCraven, and bassist Joshua Ramos. This writer just saw Hill and the Blacktet at the Kennedy Center and only Hill's long-time collaborator remained, but the sleek sound of his group, with its incorporation of hip hop rhythms was very much akin to this marvelous recording.
On this recording, Hill also incorporates a bit of poetry as on previous album (although that was not present in his superb live performance), and the music here is comprised on his own reworking of a number of standards. As on his prior recordings, the brief opening track (The Chicago Bulls opening theme) has the group introduced by vocalist Meagan McNeal, before they launch into the title track, backing some hiphop poetry commentary by poet Harold Green III that segues into a very appealing rendition of Gigi Gryce's "Minority," with the leader's own trumpet, full of controlled, smoldering intensity, as well as Thomas's scintillating vibes, and the rhythm section's very distinct feel (McCraven is central here). Hill's trumpet on Horace Silver's "Moon Rays" certainly justifies comparisons made of him to Clifford Brown (with dashes of Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard), while followed by McBride, himself a distinctive young voice, to shine.
On this recording, Washington DC vocalist Christine Dashiell sings "My Foolish Heart" with the rhythm trio adding its own flavor with Thomas's shimmering vibes before the horns enter on this imaginative, exquisite vocal performance with a concise short, skittering muted trumpet break. A beautiful "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," is taken unaccompanied until the closing bar is followed by the Afro-Cuban take on Donald Byrd's "Fly Little Bird Fly," which here also incorporates Green's poetry. Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," which live was a feature for the rhythm section, here has the clean distinctive horn lines taken at a relaxed pace and enhanced along with Dashiell's tuneful vocalizing, followed by an imaginative "Straight No Chaser," that opens with some gritty saxophone, followed by the leader's own incisive, fiery playing.
The album closes with the Charlie Chaplin ballad "Smile" that opens as a duet with Hill's muted trumpet McCraven (using his hands) before Ramos provides an anchor before getting the spotlight with vibes and sax joining for the closing passages. Hill has updated the jazz ensemble in a manner that one evokes the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet while incorporating the hip-hop laced grooves of today. "The Way We Play" is an auspicious recording full of the distinctive sound of Marquis Hill and the Blacktet.
I received my review copy form Concord Jazz. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 372). Here is Marquis Hill at the 2016 Chicago Jazz Festival.