[26 February 2009]
Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gilchrist leads his octet, the New Volcanoes, on a seven-song excursion exploring the essence of soul. Having received comparisons to Sun Ra and Thelonious Monk, Gilchrist pans several branches of soul music, from nasty funk, D.C. go-go, and hip-hop to old school soul and jazz fusion. “Soul Progressin’ is a rediscovery in the sense of what was and is still the most essential part of my offering. Soul Power”, says Gilchrist, referring to the myriad of genres that developed out of and were influenced by soul music.
Soul Progressin’ follows 2007’s Three, an appropriately-titled trio record. Bringing together three saxophonists, two trumpeters, and the essential bass (Anthony “Blue” Jenkins) and drums (Nathan Reynolds), Gilchrist’s octet comes together with a cohesive ensemble sound, the result of six years of honing. The album expresses many different moods and soundscapes. For instance, the sultry “Come Get Some”, with its smooth and slow churning bass, evokes a naughty seduction against the dissonant horns. Multiple-horn harmonies layer overtop Gilchrist’s pounding rhythmic piano. The perky funk-infused opening title track achieves its straight-ahead swagger with Gilchrist’s initial piano phrase. He lays out the basic and initial melody while others take turns basking in the glow. A muted trumpet takes a solo, gargling and warbling like a drunken party-goer. Critters Buggin’-esque saxophones wail and scream against Gilchrist’s low end piano with prog-fusion sound that folks like Skerik do so well.
“Frownin’ Clowns” starts Gilchrist laying out the beginning lines of the disjointed, bad-guy theme music that plays when a seedy character appears in a talkie scene. Sluggish and defiant horns rip into the textures created by Gilchrist’s haphazard skips of the piano. Horns pit themselves against each other in ordered yet interspersed blasts. The way this piece sort of falls together in a seemingly aimless manner makes this piece especially intriguing. The song speaks as a metaphor to the bumbling idiocy that has apparently reigned in the United States government before Obama (knock on wood). Perhaps the way the song loosely throws itself together mimics the careless and disorderly nature of recent presidential terms.
Frantic “Many Exits No Doors” jolts about in hyper-speed, as Gilchrist and cohorts flex their speedy virtuoso abilities. Reynolds seems to be constantly increasing the speed with his nearly-drum machine beats. For over nine minutes this cavalcade of horns and a swirling twister of piano envelop the space at full force, fortissimo and prestissimo. After Gilchrist’s final solo, the drums that had been softly sweeping take a few turns in dynamics before fizzling out completely, signaling the end of the disc. Gilchrist and the New Tornadoes, in their quest to celebrate the countenance of soul music, have navigated through multiple genres that have followed from soul. The album also sets the stage for soul’s influences to come.