This disc is a departure from pianist Gilchrist's earlier work. As the title implies, it's a trio effort—piano, bass, and drums—without the horn section that's been featured so prominently on previous releases. Those discs emphasized Gilchrist's ability to write muscular, propulsive horn arrangements that flexed and pulsed throughout his songs. This time around, the stripped-down instrumentation shifts the focus to Gilchrist's skills as a player and writer. His piano playing has never sounded better, whether he's probing evocatively ("The Last Train") or coaxing a series of cascading rhythms ("In Depth" and "Spheres of Existence") and hammering deep grooves ("Volcano Red" and "Inside Outside") from the keys. On the latter two tunes especially, longtime fans may anticipate brassy accompaniment that never materializes. Still, such songs will satisfy the faithful, because, even unadorned, they are infused with the vitality that has characterized all of Gilchrist's work.
Lafayette Gilchrist and his band, the New Volcanoes, headline the Groove City Jazz & Blues Festival in Cambridge, Maryland on May 12th.
Black Snake Moan (New West)
The film may have stiffed, but this soundtrack deserves a listen. Featuring some of our finest contemporary blues artists, it shows that the blues is more than a relic, or footnote in the history of rock—in the right hands, it's a varied and nuanced art form. Put together by Scott Bomar (who also did the music to Hustle & Flow), it spotlights a variety of blues subgenres: hill country (R.L. Burnside's "Old Black Mattie"), chitlin circuit (Bobby Rush's "Chicken Heads"), country (Precious Bryant's "Morning Train"), Delta (Jessie Mae Hemphill's "Standing in My Doorway Crying"), psychedelic folk (North Mississippi Allstars' "Mean Ol' Wind Died Down"), and punk (The Black Keys' "When the Lights Go Out"). There are also a few surprises: instrumental selections from Bomar's score and the inclusion of Baltimore native John Doe's "The Losing Kind" fall into the pleasant category, while cuts featuring actor Samuel L. Jackson on lead vocals rate as not-so-pleasant. But hearing Doe in this context is something of a revelation. With his punk pedigree, Doe, founder of L.A. punk band X, wouldn't be considered a blues artist by most standards, but, in this setting, he more than holds his own. I'd love to hear him record a full disc of blues songs. Despite the missteps, Black Snake Moan largely succeeds by nodding to the past, highlighting the present, and pointing to the future.
Vazquez, a Hamilton native and School for the Arts grad, brings to mind fellow fusion guitarists such as John Scofield and John McLaughlin with, at times, a little Vernon Reid in the mix. Anchored in jazz and buoyed by rock, his best songs ("Various Reactions to an Atomic Bomb" and "Kiss the Sky") reflect the tempest and calm of both genres.