Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes
It Came From Baltimore: Live at the Windup Space Vol. 1
It’s been a while since local key-pounder Lafayette Gilchrist put out a new record. And, while his previous efforts, especially his most recent Soul Progressin’ (Hyena 2009), show the off-kilter strength of Gilchrist’s composition, they never quite manage to capture the power of his live performances. Gilchrist is one of those bandleaders whose instrument is the orchestra. He draws strength from his audiences too, because, let’s face it, unlike most jazz audiences, they don’t sit there and politely nod while sipping on Chardonnay. You’ll see dancing at New Volcanoes shows, and not the kind of hoary old jitterbug swing dance that makes it feel like you’re watching Civil War re-enactors: I mean people seriously shaking their asses.
You can almost hear the booties bouncing on his new double record—and his first with the full configuration of the nine-piece New Volcanoes—It Came From Baltimore: Live at the Windup Space Vol. 1. That’s because Gilchrist isn’t trying to be a re-enactor, all worried about purity and labels and the way Bud Powell did shit. On It Came From Baltimore, it’s clear that Gilchrist composes music to address the world around him, a world full of rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop, soul, and, yes, jazz. And though he has a strong sense of melody and an ear for complex harmonies, for Gilchrist it is all about the rhythm.
That’s obvious from the syncopated piano groove at the beginning of the first track, “Unscripted.” It owes as much to go-go as it does bebop. Kevin Pender’s percussion comes in next, strengthening this overall impression, followed quickly by the fuzzed-out guitar of Carl Filipiak. About a minute in, the horns blast in unison to punctuate the rhythm as they might in a funk band. Mike Cerri on trumpet leads the rest of the crew, signaling when it is time to stomp. But by the time the first horn solo has ended, you realize that this ain’t no funk record. Cerri’s trumpet lines are reminiscent of avant-garde legend Don Cherry*, while the inimitable John Dierker brings the clarinet back into modern jazz with a fury most of us had no idea the instrument was capable of. Gregory Thompkins’ intricate tenor sax cathedrals of sound are complimented by Tiffany DeFoe’s soulful growl (disclosure: This writer occasionally plays music with DeFoe).
Pop and the avant-garde, old and new, free-jazz and funk, hip-hop and rock, modernist dissonance and sentimental grooves all collide on the more brooding and perfectly titled “Simmering,” in a way that doesn’t sound forced, but instead feels both organic and necessary—an appropriate response to a world where the whole history of music is at our fingertips.
The band just got back from a Baltimore versus New Orleans extravaganza organized by David Simon in New Orleans to benefit Tipitina’s Foundation. It’s easy to see why Simon has used the New Volcanoes in his television programs: They are tight without losing their raw power and cinematic without becoming pedantic. Listening to these songs, you can see some kind of HBO-style badass strutting down the street.
It’s good that Gilchrist is dubbing this affair “Volume 1” because it is really the first time he has captured his whole sound on wax. He and the New Volcanoes (who have added another member or two since this show) will be playing at the Windup again this weekend. Who knows—they might be recording the second volume. And by the way, though this band is startlingly original, it’s nice to see the way old-school touch of a double live record.
Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes play the Windup Space May 26. For more information visit thewindupspace.com.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Don Cherry was a member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. City Paper regrets the error.