Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gilchrist has been playing bits and pieces of his "Go-Go Suite" for several years now, but the first official recording of the project was finally released Sunday and celebrated at the Windup Space by the nine musicians on the album plus two special guests. The 11 players did all four movements from the suite plus a new prelude and a new tune written for bassist Anthony "Blue" Jenkins.
The suite itself is a major achievement. Since its very origins, jazz has been all about absorbing popular dance musics and then adding both flexibility and improvised variations to the rhythm, harmony, and melody. Whether it was ragtime, swing, Cuban music, Brazilian music, soul, or funk, the alchemy was the same. Gilchrist, who grew up in Washington, D.C. during the golden era of Chuck Brown's go-go, has succeeded in transforming that music in much the same way Dizzy Gillespie transformed Afro-Cuban music.
It was hard to see the rhythm section behind the shoulder-to-shoulder, five-person horn section on the tiny Windup Space stage, but Jenkins, drummer Nate Reynolds, and conguero Kevin Pender created a bottom that evoked the Latinized funk of the go-go groove but refused to adhere to it strictly. The dance beat was always in there somewhere, but it was surrounded by so many varying, secondary accents that it was indisputably jazz as well.
On Sunday evening, the regular rhythm section was joined by special guest Shodekeh, Baltimore's beatbox specialist extraordinaire. His inventive vocal percussion added a new level of complexity that markedly enhanced the material. And when he took a solo, he held his own with any of the jazz soloists on stage.
The regular horn section of tenor saxophonists Greg Thompkins and Tiffany DeFoe, clarinetist John Dierker, and trumpeter Mike Cerri was joined by Cerri's young, cornet-playing daughter Camilla. The horns began each movement in the suite with riffs that resembled the vocal chants so essential to go-go. Before long, however, those vamps would morph into subtle improvisations and finally climax in wailing jazz solos.
Forming a bridge between the rhythm section and the horns, which constantly fell silent only to erupt again, were Gilchrist and guitarist Carl Filipiak. The two chording instruments reinforced the groove at certain times and challenged it at others. That's just what jazz is supposed to do when it engages a popular dance music, and that's what Gilchrist's compositions and arrangements have pulled off so impressively.
The next jazz concert at the Windup Space will be a Nov. 12 show by the Pulse Quintet, led by bassist/composer Mario Pavone and featuring Towson University's Dave Ballou on trumpet.