Marquis Hill becomes a true believer in his all-star band’s collective powers on “New Gospel Revisited”

Album cover courtesy Marquis Hill – Bandcamp

Marquis Hill – New Gospel Revisited (Edition)

This stunning album amounts to an artist replanting in a profoundly fertile motherlode of his evolution, by reinterpreting the material of his very first album. The harvest is a quantum artistic leap. Chicago-native Hill is already established as one of the most talented and resourceful trumpeter-composers in jazz. Here he assembles a group of band leaders (several Blue Note label artists) and the quality quotient spikes. And it’s virtually all performed live in concert, a testament to the high art of the improviser (A  series of studio-recorded a cappella solo pieces allows each of the sextet’s sidemen to to stand up and speak his peace.).

The floating, portentous “Intro” arrests our attention, and the ensuing “Law & Order” unfurls waves a of witness, drama and testament. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III enters a quietly enchanting storyteller but inevitably lifts us to cathartic cries of betrayal of justice, of true law and order. Vibist Joel Ross and pianist James Francies suggest, in their heavily populated lines, the bustle of the hoi polloi, and the pianist especially conveys a boiling tension in his hurtling momentum surges. If you haven’t heard him, Francies is a revelation, perhaps even if you have. To me, his linear speed doesn’t feel gratuitous or showy, rather it is breathtaking – burning with purpose, like a meteor striving for an explosive destiny. At other times, it’s as if his profuse ideas are spilling out over the edges of a sentence. This is music you feel in your bones, your whole being, such is its insinuating power.

Marquis Hill live. Courtesy mobile twitter.com

On “The Believer” everyone steps out hot and gives it up, as believers in, if nothing else, their extraordinary collective power which, by compounding exponentially, suggests a pipeline to some higher power. New Gospel, indeed. The tune exemplifies Hill’s compositional gifts, crafting edge-of-the-precipice pathways for improvs, suspended by oddly beguiling melodies. He won jazz’s greatest performance honor, The Thelonious Monk International Competition in 2014, underscoring his promise, now fully realized. 1

He’s admittedly out of the hard-bop blues tradition of Lee Morgan but deepened by expressive textures suggesting the influence of fellow Chicago brass avant-avatar Wadada Leo Smith, and aspects of many great trumpeters between. One can easily drink deeply from this album purely on the artistic virtuosity – throughout drummer Kendrick Scott bristles and flares like a string of artfully controlled fireworks. Yet there’s a cumulative demonstration of a spiritual mine, which has only strengthened in repose, replenished to fuel the powers of endurance, defiance, and resolution in a world seemingly out to get the already-disenfranchised American everyman, and woman.

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This review was originally published in slightly shorter form in The Shepherd Express, here:  rhttps://shepherdexpress.com/music/album-reviews/new-gospel-revisited-edition-by-marquis-hill/

  1. Hill performed with his working group, The Blacktet, at the Madison Jazz Festival in 2021 and at Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts in 2012.

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