The Prickle (@ThePrickle) July 09, 2019
Marquis Hill’s fusion of tradition and experimentation marks the trumpeter out as one of the most important artists in Black American Music today. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, the musical influence of the city is imbibed into Marquis’ sound. Chicago is, and always has been, an epicentre for Black American Music. It was the crucible in which Dixieland Jazz was redefined with the likes of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong working and recording in the city. In the 60s it was a centre for experimentation in Jazz. ‘The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ (AACM) nurtured and promoted artists such as Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Lester Bowie. Aside from Jazz, Chicago also has a strong tradition of Blues, Soul, Gospel, House, and Hip Hop. These disparate strands of the musical history of Chicago, and the ethos of experimentation and community are entrenched in the Blacktet’s sound.
The group’s third date of a Europe-wide tour began with a percussion led vamp followed by a spoken word sample explaining how Hip Hop is a continuation of Jazz. This sets the scene for a show that melted the barrier between the two genres. Saxophone and trumpet trade solos on the first tune ‘Twin Flame’ climaxing with the two joining together in jagged counterpoint. This musical dialogue evokes the call and response style of Chicago Blues, the improvisations of Free Jazz as pioneered by the AACM, and to Rap cypher sessions. Marquis’ solo on the second tune moves from dizzying Bebop lines reminiscent of Clifford Brown, to a more dissonant and freer sound not unlike that of Lester Bowie, all with his own flair and melodic sensitivity. Patrick Bartley’s alto saxophone solo displays his effortless melodic style that has a real sense of harmonic direction and rhythmic expansion. Bartley’s grasp of Blues, Funk, Bebop, and more outside playing is clearly demonstrated. A driving drum solo from Jonathan Pinson commenced the next tune, demonstrating his uniquely fluid groove-laden style. ‘Her Story’ showcased pianist Michael King’s virtuosic abilities as he switched from rhythmically irregular octave ideas interspersed with bluesy fills, to almost McCoy Tyner inspired quartal harmonies and pentatonic ideas. Throughout King’s solo the deep Hip Hop groove seamlessly melded into hard swing.
The last tune of the first set was structured on a repeating horn riff that is varied with improvisation. Rather than use a more traditional main theme plus solo format, this ostinato based compositional structure is reminiscent of Wayne Shorter tunes such as ‘Nefertiti’ and ‘Fall’. This use of melody led composition lends itself to an enhanced method of improvisation that goes beyond simply playing the changes. The track ‘Stellar’ was introduced with an extended bass solo that showcases Jeremiah Hunt’s rich tone, and melodic yet bluesy style. By the final tune, ‘The Watcher’, the joy radiating from the band is palpable. In his solo, Marquis builds tension using highly complex rhythmic ideas culminating in an outburst of rapid Bebop lines. Whilst stretching out on a repeated melodic figure, the players one by one play themselves off the stage to rapturous applause.
Marquis has a powerfully singular sense of style in both his improvisations and compositions. Influenced by the greats and yet entirely his own. Each tune played to band’s individual strength and styles. Marquis’ sense of musical self-awareness, wide range of influence, and confidence in blending different genres marks him out as a premier musician of his generation. The collaborative energy of the group is a triumph of spirit over ego. The Marquis Hill Blacktet’s sound is overtly conscious of its heritage but also of the need to combine the strands and expand the vernacular of Black American Music. The Chicagoan band achieves this graciously, simultaneously carving out its own individual voice that shouts out above the crowd in a musical world so often lacking in both traditions and experimentation.