Marquis Hill’s musical prowess began to garner more recognition after winning such competitions as the International Trumpet Guild jazz competition (2012) and most recently the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition (2014), widely regarded as the most prestigious in its field.
Hill previously recorded three albums: New Gospel (Skiptone 2011), Sounds of the City (Skiptone 2012) and The Poet (Skiptone 2013). On his fourth recording, Modern Flows Vol. 1 (Skiptone 2014), Hill demonstrates that not only are those trumpet awards more than well-deserved but that his skills as a composer and arranger occupy the same rarified air.
One of the first steps in recording any great album is getting great players and Hill has chosen wisely. Saxophonist Christopher McBride is technically and stylistically complementary to Hill; his solos are both inventive and breath-taking while their shared passages are often the highlight of the compositions.
Drummer-percussionist Makaya McCraven has an extensive toolkit that includes moments of power and technical brilliance combined with a nuanced melodic feel and creative flourishes. He teams with bass player Joshua Ramos to form a rhythm section that effortlessly and engagingly handles everything Hill throws at them. Ramos plays virtuoso-quality solos that have an unusual and satisfying melodic component that integrates superbly with Hill’s compositions.
Vibraphonist Justin Thomas adds interesting, stimulating and engaging dimensions to the music. When Hill and/or McBride have the lead, he adds unique context while cruising effortlessly with McCraven and Ramos. There are a number of highlight moments throughout the recording where Hill and McBride step aside and let Thomas expand and express.
Meagen McNeal appears as a vocalist on a couple of tracks while Tumelo Khoza and Keith Winford get “Spoken Word” credits. If your first reaction to “spoken word” was “rap” and you don’t like rap, do not be deterred – think “poetry” or “literate, intelligent, poignant, understandable prose that is not only thought-provoking but sets the context for the album” in the opening cut, Modern Flows Intro.
It is followed by Black Harvest, an up tempo ensemble piece that features tight playing by Hill and McBride while Thomas sets things up and then handles most of the solo work; a passage with just Thomas and McCraven is particularly engaging.
McCraven and Ramos set the tone and then drive a scintillating tempo on White Shadow that provides a superb backdrop for a number of outstanding solos including Ramos pushing his bass to the forefront. The horn arrangements are soothing and comfortable with a dash of energy.
The Essence continues the easy, soothing groove as Thomas adds sonic flourishes to the attractive melody that is delivered by some smooth Hill-McBride chemistry.
The very positive spoken message of Love My Life gives way to an uplifting ensemble arrangement. McNeal and Thomas are featured in equal amounts on the front end of I Remember Summer before McBride contributes the kind of sax solo you want to hear during the summer. McNeal returns with sweet, soft vocals that have a Brazilian flavor.
Hill features himself with excellent results on the up tempo When We Were Kings then follows with King Legend layering melodies and solos with literate, thought-provoking and percussive spoken word.
Flow, another showcase for Thomas’ considerable talents and creativity with more superb work from Hill, precedes the final cut, Legend Outro.
The net effect of listening to this album is positive and pleasing – and yes, these guys are just as good live.