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Jazz - Released June 24, 2016 | Concord Jazz

Prior to winning the Thelonious Monk Institute's International Jazz Competition in 2014, trumpeter Marquis Hill was already a formidable presence on the Chicago jazz scene. An adroit improviser and educator, Hill had taken home several accolades, including his first place win in the 2013 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition. His Monk Institute performance merely cemented the notion that Hill was a jazz artist who'd arrived. As part of his prize for winning the Monk contest, he earned a record deal with the Concord label, and 2016's The Way We Play is the result. While the album is certainly a showcase for Hill's fluid talents as an improvisor, it also works to showcase his skills as a bandleader. As with his 2014 effort, Modern Flows EP, Vol. 1, The Way We Play finds Hill leading his Blacktet, a group of longtime collaborators including saxophonist Christopher McBride, vibraphonist Justin Thomas, drummer Makaya McCraven, and bassist Joshua Ramos. Thoughtfully organic and rife with a groove-oriented, hip-hop-informed style, the Blacktet is at once contemporary and steeped in modern jazz tradition. Essentially, Hill balances both of these strengths on The Way We Play, largely touching upon songs from the jazz canon re-arranged in his own fluid, soulfully articulated style. As if to playfully underline his Chicago spirit, Hill also re-creates the Chicago Bulls game-opening theme replete with vocalist Meagan McNeal introducing his band. He then moves through a set of well-curated covers including a sophisticated version of "My Foolish Heart," featuring vocalist Christie Dashiell and a kinetic take on Horace Silver's "Moon Rays," in which McCraven plays a frenzied drum style reminiscent of electronic drum and bass beats. Hill is a dynamic performer whose trumpet can be hushed and breathy one minute, and boldly clarion the next. Aesthetically, while he fits into the Freddie Hubbard mold with flashes of Wynton Marsalis and Clifford Brown, he's also a deeply rooted trumpeter with an array of influences, demonstrated here by his Afro-Cuban take on Donald Byrd's "Fly Little Bird Fly" and his choice to tackle Carmell Jones' knotty "Beep Durple." His technique can dazzle, as evidenced by his lithe squealing-at-the-clouds solo on Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser." However, he's also a canny romantic whose supple, burnished tone can pull you deeper into a melody as he does on his largely rubato take on the ballad "Polkadots and Moonbeams." Elsewhere, he delivers a languid take on fellow Chicagoan Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," and even makes room for incisive social commentary via a spoken word poem from writer Harold Green III on "The Way We Play/Minority." Ultimately, The Way We Play illustrates Hill's award-winning sound, a sound that should appeal broadly to listeners hungry for a stylish, subtly forward-thinking approach to post-bop jazz, and to those who simply enjoy a warmly delivered standard. ~ Matt Collar

Jazz - Released October 15, 2018 | Black Unlimited Music Group


Jazz - Released October 29, 2018 | Black Unlimited Music Group


Jazz - Released November 9, 2018 | Black Unlimited Music Group


Jazz - Released September 27, 2019 | Black Unlimited Music Group


Jazz - Released October 9, 2019 | Black Unlimited Music Group


Jazz - Released October 11, 2019 | Black Unlimited Music Group

Trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Marquis Hill's music has continually sought the sweet spot between contemporary and straight-ahead jazz, hip-hop, adult contemporary, R&B, Chicago-style house, neo-soul, and funk. While it's true that his previous seven albums have operated with a similar M.O., his two Modern Flows volumes and The Way We Play (a set of thoroughly revamped jazz standards) put this across best. With Love Tape, Hill takes on music's -- and perhaps all the arts' -- most dominant theme: Love. But there are a couple of twists. First, he's after the most fundamental kind of love there is, self-love as a gateway to other kinds. Secondly, his approach to the topic is proffered by a series of interviews with African American women. He assembled a quartet of frequent collaborators for assistance: pianist and keyboardist Mike King, bassist Junius Paul, and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Old friend Makaya McCraven lent a hand with production assistance. Love Tape is relatively brief at a mere half-hour. It's constructed in a suite-like manner; its nine pieces flow into one another. Musically, the primary focus is contemporary jazz. The whole is a dreamy, laid-back contemplation of the subject matter, guided by the voices. They show up to introduce segments, comment on them in midstream, or carry them out. After an intro, the proper set-opener, "Beautiful Us," drifts in with hip-hop drums, a muted, multi-tracked bluesy trumpet melody, a sampled (male) vocal chorus, a wobbly bassline, and synth strings, before a woman with a Caribbean patois offers her own take on the strong sense of self-worth necessary for equanimous romantic relationships. Hill's lyrical playing leads each of these profoundly simple and languid tunes. The backing tracks are lush and in the pocket, with shuffling rhythm tracks grounding the breeziness of the horns and keys on "Won't You Celebrate with Me," and the shimmering ambience in "Unconditional Interlude." The lyric line in "To You I Promise" is provided by staggered, multi-tracked trumpet lines creating multi-phonic harmonies; they're accompanied by dreamy synths, snare, and hi-hat atop a bubbling funk-lite bassline. Alto saxophonist Josh Johnson assists on "A New Life," a meld of lush neo-bop and crossover jazz. Guest vocalist Christie Dashiell sings the mellow, chill-inflected neo-soul of "Wednesday Love," her smoky alto caressed by Hill's horn and Paul's rumbling yet seductive bassline. While Love Tape is not a landmark recording from the trumpeter, it is thoroughly enjoyable. The project succeeds because Hill's composed music amply suits the sampled narration underscoring the topic, as each track offers a slightly different emphasis. ~ Thom Jurek