Marquis Hill’s Blacktet Transcends Genre At Earshot Jazz Festival

by Gus Marshall

Cutting-edge modern jazz sensation Marquis Hill and his inventive Blacktet ensemble mesmerized a sold out Royal Room as one of the years most highly-anticipated performances of the Earshot Jazz Festival.

Chicago based trumpet-toting mastermind Marquis Hill took the audience on an inspiring journey of artistic celebration and sonic escapism.

The deep, booming electric bass of Junius Paul imitated the low growl of a synthesized subwoofer. Perched on top of an array of intricate rhythms and drums, provided by Jonathan Pinson, these two allowed the Blacktet to venture into uncharted realms of melodic beauty and constant evolution.

An ethereal addition of Joel Ross’ stellar vibraphone accompaniment elevated each composition into a state of dreamlike surrealism.

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Marquis Hill’s new album Modern Flows Volume 2 is available online Nov. 9.

Fluttering melodies and complementing harmonies played by either Josh
Johnson’s soulful alto sax or Marquis Hill’s stimulating trumpet, were passed back and forth, resulting in a remarkable display of contemporary virtuosity.

Marquis Hill’s new album entitled Modern Flows Volume 2, available online Nov. 9, is a contemporary classic in the making, and explores the intertwining elements of the ongoing relationship between jazz and

Hill spoke with The South Seattle Emerald about the influence of Chicago upon his personal voice, his new album, and the importance of making an honest connection with the audience.

Gus Marshall: How does your Chicago upbringing influence your musical
choices and lifestyle?

Marquis Hill: My upbringing in Chicago has influenced me profoundly, and in many ways. The way I listen to music (in my approach to composition) are probably deeply touched by what I might call the Chicago aesthetic. The priority of voice, or a kind of originality imperative, was in the soil there, at least in my experience. Having one’s own sound, which (yet) substantively pays homage to the masters – in some ways, that’s uniquely inbred in Chi…


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The Blacktet performs at the Royal Room ahead of Marquis Hill’s new album. (Photo: Susan Fried)

GM: How did the Blacktet come into existence?

MH: The Blacktet is a result of me wanting to form an ensemble that soundly preserves this great Black American music called jazz, while simultaneously establishing a non-redundant perspective. Creative voice, but again, in such a way as to be running deep in the stream or
continuum of this music. The beautiful thing about this art form is that it really is always changing. That’s the ironically dependable DNA of black American music.

GM: What messages and ideals do you hope to share with the world through your music?

MH: While more suspicious lenses might see this as a kind of cliché, one of my major goals truly is to spread love, to let the changeful essence of the music authentically effect positive change, share constructive vibrations on all scales, really. I want people to feel uplifted, enlightened, and energized after listening to my projects. I dig seeing it as spawning other edifying work. “Jazz” is and has always been music for people, both for individuals and for “The People.” Where it’s hitting and ringing true, “Jazz” is a healing, soul-soothing art form.

GM: How were the vocalists who appear on Modern Flows Vol. 2 chosen?

MH: The vocalists for this project were chosen very carefully, strategically really. Oftentimes, when I write music for vocalists or spoken word artists, the music is cultivated with specific creative processes and persons in mind. The approach on this project was no different. While composing the vocal tunes for this project I knew exactly the kinds of voices that were needed. I was composing for particular textures and personas.

GM: How do you feel jazz and hip-hop intersect?

MH: In my view, jazz and hip hop are actually one and the same; they come from the same musical tree. Jazz, blues, rock, gospel, R&B, soul, funk are all each a part of the continuum of great Black American music.

GM: What do you feel is most important to you about live performances?

MH: Having an intimate connection with the audience during my performances is extremely important to me. Making sure that the audience feels the very same vibes the band is sensing and breathing in the moment (is also important). Consistently uplifting and even analyzing souls through the music.

GM: For you, what is your least favorite aspect about touring?

MH: To be candid, the actual travel and logistics probably constitute the most challenging aspect of touring. Crowded airports and train stations hour upon hour can get tiring, surely. There’s a saying in the musician community that “we don’t get paid to perform, that’s the fun part. We’re actually getting paid to travel.” It’s only with realism, and real gratitude, that I note this.

GM: Who or what do you hope to collaborate with or explore in your next album?

MH: Currently, I’m focusing on touring this most recent project, Modern Flows Volume 2. I typically let the next project emerge somewhat organically: gratefully, it often really does “come to me.” I try to be open to the inspiration all around me, and let the spirit guide me to the next project. It truly is an exciting process and adventure.


Featured Photo: Marquis Hill and his Blacktet ensemble mesmerize the Royal Room. (Photo: Susan Fried)