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Lafayette Gilchrist’s “Go-Go Suite” and the power of music

July 14, 2013

IMG_2102Smoking an American Spirit on the sidewalk of North Avenue in front of the Windup Space between sets Saturday night, Lafayette Gilchrist was visibly–and audibly–disheartened by the Trayvon Martin verdict that had just begun to reverberate through social media. “It’s not the South,” the pianist and bandleader said. “It’s America. South of the Canadian border.”

At about the same time that Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts urged citizens not  to riot, Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes took the stage for a second set of entirely new music–Gilchrist’s “Go-Go Suite”– and they took the shock and anger that was circulating through the crowd and smashed it into fierce, brutal, and beautiful improvisations.

The bar was almost empty, but I had never heard a better performance from the Volcanoes. In fact, I had rarely heard a performance anywhere that felt more relevant, powerful, and new. “New” is not a word often used of jazz these days–we still refer to “new” music as the stuff that was happening in the late ’60s or early ’70s–so much so that it feels almost naive to say the word. But Gilchrist’s suite, inspired by Washington, D.C.’s Go-Go music and dedicated to the “late, great Chuck Brown,” but full of avant-garde technicalities, pointed towards the future of jazz.

Gilchrist introduced the suite’s third movement, “Contact,” a title which he said “is especially relevant right now,” and his fiercely jabbing and yet playful assaults on his piano keyboard left no doubt. The rest of the band, too, was in top form. Mike Cerri traded the toy trumpet he often favors for a valve trombone, setting it ablaze. And both of the Tenor sax players–Gregory Thompkins and Tiffany Defoe (disclaimer: she has played music with my band) had taken on new tones since the last time I’d heard them. And for music inspired by go-go, the rhythm section of Anthony “Blue” Jenkins’ electric bass, Kevin Pender’s percussion, and traps of Nathan Reynolds traps, was essential. And stunning. Carl Filipiak’s guitar added some simmering steel.

This kind of cross-pollination is what we need more of. I’ll be shocked if the “Go-Go Suite” isn’t sampled, remixed, and used by djs and producers in the Baltimore Club scene when it is released later this year. And Saturday night, as the band wrapped up the set, it seemed that this suite was perfectly of the moment and had, perhaps, reminded a few of us just what music could do in dark times.

Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes will play the Festival Stage at Artscape Saturday, July 20 at 5 P.M.

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