Marquis Hill – New Gospel (2011)

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Taking in the first solo steps by a budding jazz talent is usually an excursion into a fresh new discovery. Most of time, these performances are polished and if there are originals, they can be surprisingly well developed. Maybe this shouldn’t be all that surprising, because before a jazz musician makes that big step into leading a date for the first time, he (or she) has already devoted most of his life getting to that point, through study, rehearsing and gigging with more experienced masters.

That’s how it went down for Marquis Hill, who took up trumpet in the fifth grade and gone on to work with a bevy of noted jazz vets like Bobby Broom, Benny Golson, Antonio Hart, Steve Turre, Corey Wilkes and Ernest Dawkins. In fact, we first mentioned Hill earlier this year while saying a few words about fellow Chicagoan Dawkins’ newest album The Prairie Prophet. Earlier this month, Hill entered a new phase in his career with the release of his debut, self-released album, called New Gospel.

From what I can gather about this music, Hill is a player of restraint and taste; he’s also as aware of current trends as he is with tradition. His tone and lyricism draws from the innovative style of Clifford Brown, a trumpet great whom for all the plaudits he gets, his more lyrical side isn’t truly embraced as much by the current crop of trumpet players as you might think. But Hill is on the case.

The eight tracks on New Gospel are all originals, as Hill was apparently eager to show the world his ability to craft his own songs. Hill’s record also serves as an excellent way to sample the talents of many up and coming performers in Chicago’s vibrant jazz scene at once. Helping out Hill on this record are Christopher McBride on alto sax, Joshua Moshier on piano, John Tate on bass and Jeremy Cunningham on drums. Chris Madsen (tenor sax) and Kenneth Oshodi (guitar) guest on a few cuts as well. The good news is that they’re all talented. The even better news is that Hill gives these guys plenty of space to show us just how talented they are.

The democratic regime Hill imposes is most evident on a track like “The Believer,” (Youtube below) a smooth, Rhodes fueled groover that puts McBride’s funky alto out front, and Moshier’s understated, rhythmically aware solo fits well, too. Tate, though, steals the show. His bubbling pulse finds all the right spots, amplifying the groove ten fold. He is also the star of the hip-hop influenced “The Thump,” though Hill, McBride and Moshier, again on electric piano, all play this one smooth without threatening to cross over into smooth jazz. “New Gospel” is centered around Cunningham’s “big four” second line beat, but the esoteric melody Hill builds on top of it would work well on any rhythm. Oshodi’s inviting, old generation guitar mannerisms rounds out the somewhat unique sound. He’s also there on the lilting “Autumn,” as is Madsen’s tenor for a nice change-up. “A Portrait of Fola” is hot post-bop highlighted by energetic but controlled solos by McBride and Hill’s muted horn, at a point of the song where everyone else but Tate sits out.

The album ends with “Goodbye Fred,” Hill’s own personal salute to the recently passed Chicago sax great Fred Anderson. Perhaps to emphasize the personal nature of his tribute, he plays it tenderly with only Tate accompanying him.

In short, New Gospel justifies Hill leap into a led recorded performance. He’s not even done developing: he’s currently working on his Masters in Jazz Pedagogy, and I’m sure he’ll continue to work in other people’s bands, as well as teach. But he is already very far along, and with solid a starting point from New Gospel, I can hardly wait to find where he ends up.

Visit Marquis Hill’s website.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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