Chicago has long been a major jazz cradle. Ever since pioneers such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and King Oliver planted seeds of the music in 1917, the Windy City has birthed numerous jazz titans of various stylistic idioms, ranging from such swing stalwarts as Benny Goodman and Bud Freedman to such modernists as Muhal Richard Abrams, Jack DeJohnette and Herbie Hancock. You can now add 29-year-old Marquis Hill to the list. The New York Times described him as a “dauntingly skilled trumpeter,” and the Chicago Tribune asserts that “his music crystallizes the hard-hitting, hard-swinging spirit of Chicago jazz.”
Hill hones a warm, mellifluous tone on trumpet and flugelhorn with which he unravels sleek melodic passages that are as commanding as they are cogent. As a composer, he builds upon his distinctive sound to craft arresting originals that embrace post-bop, hip-hop, R&B and spoken word. After releasing four well-received discs on Skiptone Music – New Gospel (2011), Sound of the City (2012), The Poet (2013) and Modern Flows, vol. 1 (2014) – Hill raised his profile significantly by winning the 2014 Thelonious Trumpet Competition, which awarded him a $25,000 scholarship and a recording contract with Concord Records.
As a victory lap, Hill releases his captivating Concord Records debut, The Way We Play on June 24, 2016. The disc features Hill fronting his longstanding ensemble, the Blacktet, consisting of alto saxophonist Christopher McBride, vibraphonist Justin Thomas, bassist Joshua Ramos, and drummer Makaya McCraven. Appearing as special guests on a few tracks are singer Christie Dashiell, trombonist Vincent Gardner, percussionist Juan Pastor, and spoken-word artist Harold Green III. Unlike his previous three discs, which focused solely on Hill’s original compositions, The Way We Play captures Hill refurbishing a handful of jazz standards – most of them learned during his formative high-school years. Revisiting classics such as Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and Monk’s “Straight No Chas-er” alongside rarities such as Carmell Jones’ “Beep Durple” and Donald Byrd’s “Fly Lit-tle Bird Fly,” Hill takes an emphatically modern, groove-centric approach to the repertoire that positions The Way We Play firmly into the now.
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