Saturday, November 15, 2008

SOUL MAN

Dear Lafayette Gilchrist,

I want to share with you a debate I had with my friend Omar (by the way that is not his real name). I wrote a blog in September praising saxophonist David Sandborn’s new album Here & Gone. I wrote that Sandborn had mastered saxophonist Hank Crawford’s style. My observation upset Omar. Omar said Sandborn is a thief, and he profited from copying Crawford.

I disagreed. Sandborn has always acknowledged Crawford was his chief influence. I told Omar it is tough for musicians to stop playing like the musicians who influenced them. Many alto saxophonists copied Charlie Parker. I cited saxophonist Ornette Coleman as an example. To this day, Coleman still sounds like Parker, and trumpeter Wallace Roney has profited from blowing like Miles Davis. Omar and I could not see eye to eye on the matter. We decided to stop debating.

Lafayette, last year, I blogged that you sound like the late pianist Don Pullen, and Omar agreed after he listened to your solos on saxophonist David Murray’s album Scared Grounds. However, on Soul Progressin’, your new album, you have found your voice.

I noticed immediately your style changed. On the Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (2004), Toward the Shining Path (2005) and Three (2007), you explored every inch and crevice of the piano, and bunched together many notes. That approach worked. On Soul Progressin’, you came across as a selfless front man. Your playing was precise, and you spaced out the notes you played, while encouraging your band-mates to fill up in the space.

You wanted your sidemen to get all the attention. Each of the seven tracks on Soul Progressin’ sounds as though you wrote one song for each member. Soul Progressin’ served as their official coming out party. You essentially put bass clarinetist John Dierker, tenor saxophonist Gregory L. Thompkins, alto saxophonist Gabriel Ware, trumpeters Mike Cerri and Freddy Dunn, bassist Anthony “Blue” Jenkins and drummer Nathan Reynolds in an environment where they could be uninhabited. You succeeded big time.

After I listened to Soul Progressin’, I wonder if those musicians earned their stripes playing in big bands, or if they were your friends from your hometown, Baltimore. Soul Progressin’ has a big band feel especially on cuts such as Detective’s Tip, Uncrowned, and Many Exits No Doors. The little tricks you did at the end of Detective’s Tip made the hair on my forearms, neck, knuckles and lower back dance.

Lafayette I plan to tell Omar to buy Soul Progressin’. I want to know if he also feels you have shaken your Don Pullen influence.

-Charles L. Latimer




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