Title: The Way We Play
Artist: Marquis Hill
Label: Concord Jazz
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: June 24, 2016
Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill, who studied under Ronald Carter at Northern Illinois University and earned a masters in jazz pedagogy from DePaul University, released several projects of his original music on Skiptone Music. In 2014, Hill won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition, which awarded him a recording contract with Concord Records. From this contract comes his debut album for Concord Jazz, The Way We Play, which pays homage to jazz standards reinterpreted by Hill and his ensemble, the Blacktet, featuring Christopher McBride (sax), Justin Thomas (vibes), Makaya McCraven (drums), and Joshua Ramos (bass).
The title track, “The Way We Play/Minority” is playful mashup of a Gigi Gryce tune and features spoken word by Harold Green III. It can be listened to as a manifesto (“the way we play is / the way we love”), or as Hill emphatically states, “this is the sound of my band, which is uniquely Chicago.” Green enters after the intro, claiming the music’s blackness, stating “the way we play signify from which we came/Black always in season.” Light and fast paced, Hill’s rendition never numbs a gut or unseats a listener as free jazz strove to do. This is a fantastic piece, which describes many of the songs on this release. It dances the spirit in a comforting way and is great at romancing the beings that this society has had us become. The drumming is singularly superb and so the trumpet playing.
Other highlights are Horace Silver’s “Moon Rays,” which inspires idealism in its listener, and the Afro-Cuban take on “Fly Little Bird Fly” (by Donald Byrd), which also features spoken word by Harold Green. His prose asks “the descendants of sharecroppers” to “sprinkle black girl magic” and “rise and dance.” Are these songs politically romantic? Marquis Hill seems to intend to transform at least some of the tracks into statements of political activism or even protest. Also included on the album is an Afro-Latin version of “Smile,” the Charlie Chaplin tune, while “My Foolish Heart” is a love ballad with R&B influences featuring Christie Dashiell on vocals.
Marquis Hill’s The Way We Play is a delightful album that combines the best of two worlds: Archie Shepp without the jagged edges, post-bop with overt protest.
Reviewed by Adolf Alzuphar