Lafayette Gilchrist: Undaunted

American sextet plays funk and Latin modal riffs and sequences overlaid with solos from saxophone, piano and trombone

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Lafayette Gilchrist was a 17-year-old student of economics, English and maybe something else – not music, anyway – at the University of Maryland when he wandered into a recital room on campus and began tinkling the keys of its Steinway grand. He later taught himself to play, ending his college career as a pianist and composer.

Such backgrounds are the mannah of astonishment, not to say incredulity. His keyboard style is described in promotional material as blending barrelhouse, Ravelian impressionism, and “the deeply swinging pocket of a classic go-go beat”.

Make of that what you will. There’s not much evidence of its virtues on this album. At the centre is Into The Swirl, a mouvement perpétuel set in motion and sustained by a rolling piano figure in the lower register with arco bass and turning into, deliberately or not, a feature for percussionist Kevin Pinder and drummer Eric Kennedy. There’s some duo harmonising by tenor saxophonist Brian Settles and trombonist Christian Hizon in what on the whole seems a fruitless formal exercise.

The two opening tracks may hold the key. The themes of Undaunted and Ride It Out are unremarkable – the curious rising figure of the former promising much but delivering little – and the solos by Settles and Hizon undistinguished; Pinder is not so much unexceptional as surplus to requirements. Maybe that middle track was triple atonement.

Southern Belle is promoted as “swaggering… brimming with sensuality and seduction” but in reality is a faux tango, in which percussion comes into its own as adding ensemble grit but which sports a piano solo that initially slows things down for want of fire.

Metropolitan Musings has Pinder delivering more beneath a piano part anchored by percussive pedal chords before the chart becomes repetitive, also a fault of the title track. One wonders what bassist Herman Burney thought of it all, maintaining an evenish keel at the centre of arrangements lacking solid shape.


Discography
Undaunted; Ride It Out; Into The Swirl; Southern Belle; Metropolitan Musings (40.43)
Gilchrist (p); Brian Settles (ts); Christian Hizon (tb); Herman Burney (b); Eric Kennedy (d); Kevin Pinder (pc). Baltimore, 11 June 2023.
Morphius Records LGM-2023-1