Marquis Hill – Sounds Of The City (2012)

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Last year Marquis Hill introduced himself on his debut album New Gospel as a trumpeter, composer and bandleader who can weave in all sorts of modern grooves that give no ground in defending the proud traditions of jazz. You could call it “head and feet” jazz, the kind that’s circumspect enough to satisfy the head and soulful enough to make your feet tap. But Hill has a lot more to say musically about his refreshing approach, because here we are only a year later talking about another new CD by him.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Marquis Hill’s debut effort New Gospel instantly puts Hill on the jazz map as an intelligent leader, composer and trumpeter/flugelhorn player bringing jazz into the 21st century.]

Sounds Of The City builds on the momentum he started with New Gospel; Christopher McBride on alto sax, Joshua Moshier on piano, and Jeremy Cunningham on drums carry over from the first album, and Charlie Kirchen replaces John Tate on bass. With one exception — more on that in a minute — all of these songs are Hill’s. This time, though, there are special guests sprinkled throughout, starting with Hill’s one time employer Bobby Broom (guitar) and fellow Chicagoan and rising alto sax star Greg Ward.

But the wider array of musicians isn’t the only expansion Hill made; there are more ideas and it takes nearly double the running time of New Gospel to fit them all in. “Abracadabra” glides on brisk a 6/8 tempo and piano based melody that’s memorable, almost classical; Hill gets off to a great start on an in-the-pocket solo that’s articulate and sharp-edged. Tracks like “The Wrath Of Lark” (Youtube below) reveal the depth of his composing skills have reached. He is capable of calibrating the tempo without disrupting the flow of a song, and Justin Thomas’ guest spot on vibes provided the right counterpoint to the horns. “Sounds of the City” mimics the urban hustle and bustle when Hill and McBride square off in an exchange of ideas over a runaway rhythm section; Hill’s experience in working with avant garde groups such as Ernest Dawkins’ ensemble has made him very comfortable in challenging environs such as this one.

At the same time, Hill can chill gracefully on the more straightforward groove-oriented songs. His muted horn on the walking blues “Inner City Blues” (not the Marvin Gaye song) is inviting and a little funky. “Clearfield’s” is a cool, urbane nocturnal groove with a contemporary air about it, but built around a repeating figure the doesn’t use conventional groove chords. The brief “Kiss And Tell” is more explicitly contemporary, where Moshier’s piano is exchanged for a warm glowing electric piano and the beat is more quiet storm than jazz, but the melody is appealing.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Saxophonist Greg Ward’s Phonic Juggernaut is another hire wire act without the net, and once again, Ward makes it to the other side with flying colors.]

Tacked on to the end of the program is a bonus track and that lone cover, a standard written by another former employer, Benny Golson. “Stablemates” (YouTube below) is presented as a slow paced bossa nova, and Broom’s clean, flawless articulation is a highlight. For the last two minutes, vocalist Milton Suggs sings lyrics to it.

Sounds Of The City is the sound of a talented young artist spreading his wings out further. Multi-faceted but with Hill’s own style firmly established throughout the record, Sounds, like the first album, deserves wider recognition well beyond his Chicago environs.

Sounds Of The City goes on sale August 23. Visit Marquis Hill’s website for more info.

Purchase Sounds Of The City from iTunes.

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