One of the hottest trumpet players in jazz returns to Seattle next week, and KNKX welcomes Marquis Hill's Blacktet for an exclusive studio session performance, as well. Hill's fans will tell you he's an amazing musician, but he's also committed to making his music mean something.
Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Hill is a product of that city's great jazz tradition. As a college student in DeKalb, he recently told Downbeat Magazine that he would drive the 70 miles back to Chicago to play with top stars such as Malachi Thompson, Von Freeman and Bobby Broom. "There were a lot of things happening...in the 90's," Hill said. "It kept me from getting into trouble on the streets."
The pair of shows next week, his debut as a leader at Jazz Alley, show Hill's maturity and development of his own unique musical point of view. The band's last visit sold out The Royal Room, so make your plans and buy your tickets now.
Unlike his previous album, The Way We Play, there aren't any standards on Hill's latest album. Last year's Modern Flows, Vol. 2 is comprised of original songs. The companion album, Modern Flows, Vol. 1, was released just weeks before Hill was named winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute trumpet competition in 2014, and the same year as his move to New York City.
Blending soul, jazz and a bit of modern hip-hop style, Hill says any boundaries between those genres are just a construct. "I was raised in a household where my mom played Motown, R&B, Isley Brothers, Barry White, Marvin Gaye," he said. "Then I received my first jazz record, by Lee Morgan, and that was added to the collection. I truly believe that the music is all the same.”
Guest artists on Vol. 2 include the voices of Chicago-area poets M'Reld Green and King Legend, as well as singers Rachel Robinson and Braxton Cook. As fans of The New Cool know, Cook does double duty with the Blacktet as the band's alto saxophonist. Award-winning Chicago poet and emcee Brandon Alexander Williams opens the album's flow by setting a positive tone, "My lyrics and conversation will make your brain smile."
The messages Hill delivers, largely carried by the vocalists, concern modern problems like gentrification, substance abuse, racial disperities in policing, black identity and family. In fact, two songs are inspired by Hill's grandmother.
"It's All Beautiful" is Grandma's reminder to focus on the beauty of life rather than become mired in the ugliness. "The Watcher," which you'll hear on The New Cool this Saturday afternoon, is a tribute to his grandmother's role as the neighborhood elder who kept an eye out for developing trouble.
Aside from the guests, Hill's bandmates in the Blacktet complete his musical vision. Joel Ross lends a warm sound on his vibraphone and marimba, using the natural echo of his instruments to create lingering notes that ache with longing. For our KNKX studio session, we expect Ross to be featured on piano, creating a rarely heard version of the Blacktet.
Drummer Jonathan Pinson, whom Hill met upon moving to New York, is equally swinging, skittering and at times tastefully subdued. Bassist Jeremiah Hunt returns to Seattle with the band, as will alto saxophonist and singer Braxton Cook.
Look for more from Marquis Hill's Blacktet studio session and interview coming soon, and I hope to see you at Jazz Alley for one of the shows next week!
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.