Marquis Hill Celebrates Enduring Rhythms of Love

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“Iron sharpens iron,” Marquis Hill says while discussing work with his collaborators on Love Tape, his latest dispatch.

(Photo: Lauren Desberg)

Before composing new music for Love Tape, Marquis Hill set out to explore existing concepts of love. The trumpet and flugelhorn player out of Chicago, who’s now based in New York, pored over hours of recorded interviews, selecting excerpts from Abbey Lincoln, Phylicia Rashad, Eartha Kitt and Ayesha K. Faines as inspiration for the new release.

Together with his collaborators, Hill then crafted nine meditative tracks—intercutting each excerpt with music—to create the Black Music Group album, a recording that celebrates black women and their unique, personal connections to love.

The bandleader recently took time to speak with DownBeat about melody, vulnerability and the enduring rhythm of love.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

People who hear you live tend to remember your melodicism. And a laid-back, intention-guided melodicism pervades Love Tape.

I’m attracted to beautiful melodies and sounds. My mentor, Roy Hargrove, could play one note, and you’d know it’s him right away because of the beauty of his sound. When I play, I try to sing. I try to mimic great vocalists, because my trumpet is just an extension of my voice. So, that melodicism has been ingrained in me as part of my music and my sound.

Youre surrounded by artists who are influenced by time and texture—namely producers Charles Haynes and Makaya McCraven—seemingly in the way you’re influenced by melody. What kind of impact have they had on your handling of melody and harmony?

Iron sharpens iron. I like to surround myself with musicians who emphasize melody and rhythm, Makaya specifically. He’s the beat scientist, so on this project he really focused on the drums. The textural stuff was really done by Charles Haynes, who’s another incredible producer. I surround myself with musicians who recognize the connection between past and future—and the present. Makaya is one of those people. Charles is one of those people. You can hear it in their music. And surrounding myself with these types of people has affected me over the past three or four years.

Different components of the music feel laid-back, from grooves to piano lines to Christie Dashiell’s vocals. Do you believe when we take our time, that’s how we access love?

Love does take time. It takes divine time. It takes patience. It’s one of the themes of the project: patience with self, patience with relationships. The music is very lush, and there’s a lot of open space. I did that purposefully. I wanted the music to feel like the album cover—like you’re floating on a cloud. So, absolutely, space. Miles said that magic happens in the space you leave. Anyone can play a bunch of notes, but to shape a melody around an empty space, that’s when the magic moments happen.

Let’s talk cover art: The woman lying across her lover is staring at the camera, but her lover’s face is out of frame. Did you intend to endow the woman in the photo with power and reverence in addition to suggesting intimacy?

You nailed it. The project is from the perspective of women. So, I wanted to toy with that on the album cover, making her the focal point, giving her the power but also the vulnerability of lying on top of her lover.

Why was it important to gather a roster of talented black male artists—with the exception of Dashiell—to celebrate black women in a venue that’s at once intensely intimate and completely public?

I wanted this strong band of black musicians to represent us uplifting women. I was raised by strong black women, and I wanted to highlight their voices. We live in a time when their voices are muted. They’re silenced. And they’ve been silenced throughout the history of this country. But women are standing up. I wanted to be a part of the movement and contribute to that, and also highlight their beauty and power.

You talk about strength and power, but Love Tape also spotlights vulnerability and frailty—the stuff that makes us able to be hurt and shattered.

I learned so much from interviewing my colleagues and family members, and researching these interviews. Absolutely, I wanted to touch on power and vulnerability—all these things on the tree of love. I would say that’s one key focal point of the project: Be real and true to yourself. Love yourself, so you can truly be vulnerable and love someone else.

Christie delivers some beautiful lyrics on “Wednesday Love,” but the record features other kinds of lyrics. Can you discuss the process of creating lyrics from samples versus writing lyrics?

I started researching interview excerpts, and [became] intrigued by all the women’s interviews, noticing how they talked about self-love. Their perspective of love was totally different than the men’s. I was attracted to that. I composed the music around these interviews. The one tune that features Christie, I was randomly singing the hook in the shower, thinking about how, when love is real, it happens really fast sometimes.

This recording feels as though it’s unfolding as you listen. Did you allow the pacing of these interviews to inform the pacing of the music?

Absolutely. The majority of the interview excerpts I had before the music. So, I meditated on what each one was saying, and let the music organically come to me. There’s a couple where I had the sketches of the music, and then found the perfect interview excerpt. But most of them, I meditated on the actual words to let the melodies, rhythms and grooves come.

What’s the rhythm of love? When you began putting this record together, had you already been equating deep love with deep groove?

Love can be uptempo. Love can be avant-garde. Love can be a slow swing. Love can be a burner. Love can be a ballad. Love can be so many things when equating it to rhythm and music and feel. But for this project, I wanted to emphasize the groove aspect of love. DB




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April 2020
Gregory Porter
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