Baltimore pianist Gilchrist taught himself to play at age seventeen while working as a maintenance man at the University of Maryland. He says he spent the bulk of his workday noodling on a Steinway Grand in the campus' Fine Arts building. He says he's never taken lessons and still doesn't own a piano, but somehow gets by practicing eight to ten hours a day on, uh, other people's property. Yeah, it sounds suspect. But when you listen to his first two albums 2004's The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist and 2005's Towards a Shining Path you can tell they're the work of someone with an amazing ear and no classical training. The rhythms are jagged, the articulations percussive and truculent, the melodies unpolished and usually unfinished a combination of Gilchrist's hodge-podge influences (hip-hop, funk, Washington go-go, and whatever jazz records he filched from the university library) and his scrubby personality (he eventually got fired from maintenance work for flooding a second-floor dorm). In this year's Three, however, the pianist's chops finally caught up to the ideas in his head. Overall, it's a more patient album. Gilchrist has learned how to take a lick or phrase to its resolution, even if he's still fond of jamming as many notes as possible in the space of a single bar. Moreover, he's finally started engaging his bass player and drummer or at least allowed them to serve as more than just a solid anchor or groove. Most importantly, Gilchrist has a much better rapport with his instrument on this album. It's as though he's finally learned that you can pound and pound and pound an 800-pound piano, but the piano will always win. So in the end, it's better to be less battering.
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