Trumpeter Marquis Hill returns to Seattle to lead his Blacktet at the Royal Room in Seattle for the Earshot Jazz Festival Friday night. He was just in town with bassist Marcus Miller's band, and a year ago that group was live in the KNKX studios. I remember it well, because of Marquis Hill.
He acted a bit surprised when I asked excitedly about his new album, but Hill's The Way We Play had just been released that summer, and The New Cool was all over it. And Marcus Miller, a key Miles Davis collaborator in the 80s, does know a little something about trumpet players.
Marquis Hill's Chicago roots run deep, including teen years spent with the prestigious Ravinia Jazz Scholar program where he met early mentor, guitarist Bobby Broom. He started sitting in with Broom and some of Chicago's top musicians, woodshedding at the iconic Velvet Lounge.
In 2014, with several albums of his own and as a sideman already under his belt, Hill won the Thelonious Monk Institute's jazz trumpet competition. “Winning that competition taught me to trust myself and keep working hard for what I believe in,” he says. “That experience taught me that I’m here for a purpose. So I need to keep pushing my music forward.” That award brought him a cash prize and a contract with Concord Records, which released last year's The Way We Play.
The Way We Play is Hill's 5th release as a leader, utilizing his Chicago-born Blacktet band, and the album's title could have added "...in Chicago" for the musical connection of Hill's hometown group. He's splitting time between here and New York City, but that's the Chicago skyline on the album cover. It's a fresh, modern direction employing ethereal vibraphone and a mix of swing and skittering hip hop rhythms, as well as guest vocals on a few from Christie Dashiell and the spoken-word poetry of Harold Green III.
The Chicago-ness comes through in the opening piece, riffing on the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls pre-game theme music as the album and band members are introduced, like a starting basketball lineup.
Most of the songs are jazz standards, modernized by the young group. One of the most effective updates is their version of fellow-Chicagoan Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage", slowed down and darkened into a lower key than the original. Dashiell's wordless vocals add a beautiful if slightly spooky vibe to the proceedings.
On this week's New Cool, you'll hear a new single Hill released this past spring. "Fantasy" is a cover of Los Angeles pianist and singer Tiffany Gouche's song from a couple years ago, but with her unrequited-love sentiments flipped. Harold Green's spoken words of seduction turn the song into a sexy slow jam, with a funky bass & drums breakdown tag allowing for a few more beautiful trumpet phrases before the band fades into a sunset over Lake Michigan.
Marquis Hill's current Blacktet, featuring Greg Ward (sax), Joel Ross (vibes), Jonathan Pinson (bass) and Jeremiah Hunt (drums), play two sets at Seattle's Royal Room Friday night for the Earshot Jazz Festival, emceed by yours truly. You can enter to win tickets to the show HERE. I hope to see you there!
The New Cool airs Saturdays 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.