Tag Archives: Joshua Abrams

The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: April 2019


The way things are going in 2019, I might as well just copy-paste my introductions from each month’s column into the next. Every month, I’ve been talking about the avalanche of excellent new releases in the jazz aisle of the Bandcamp store. Usually there’s an ebb to the tide, but here we are covering April’s offerings, and nothing’s changed—there’s still too much great music to get to everything, and more than enough to keep you satisfied until we meet again this time next month.

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Ben LaMar Gay’s Debut Album Mixes Free Jazz, Bossa Nova, and Electro-Bounce

Ben LaMar Gay

Photos by Maren Celest

Ben LaMar Gay is about to release his debut solo album. It’s also an album of his greatest hits. Until this point, the Chicago-born composer had treated the process of making music as an exercise in improvement: Rather than making songs to be released, he made them to analyze and study. The ones he enjoyed were sent to family members, and Gay’s nieces and a nephew became his biggest fans. After seven “records” in seven years, International Anthem—the Chicago-based jazz-leaning label—in conjunction with Gay, has culled the greatest from these personal exercises and turned them into Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun, an album that remains surprisingly cohesive despite featuring material from over the course of nearly a decade.

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Eremite Records Celebrates Free Jazz’s Past and Present

Marshall Allen, Alan Silva, Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, William Parker

Marshall Allen, Alan Silva, Kidd Jordan, Hamid Drake, and William Parker.

Free jazz went through something of a renaissance starting around 1995. In 1997, Charles Gayle and the David S. Ware Quartet shared lead review space in an issue of Rolling Stone. Ware was signed to Columbia Jazz for two albums, and a fistful of independent labels, including AUM Fidelity, Boxholder, High Two, No More, Riti and Thirsty Ear, among others, began recording other artists on the New York and New England scenes. Some of these labels faded after a few years (RIP No More and Boxholder), while others have continued to the present day; AUM Fidelity is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Eremite, founded during this ’90s renaissance, is newly energized these days, releasing multiple albums by bassist Joshua Abrams and his Natural Information Society over the past few years, slowly making its prodigious back catalog available on Bandcamp.

Eremite founder Michael Ehlers grew up in rural Minnesota. His father was a fan of mainstream jazz like Louis Armstrong, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. “While in grad school in NYC, 1961, he heard John Coltrane and said it was ‘too out there’ for him,” Ehlers recalls. The younger Ehlers lived in the Northeast from the late ’80s to the mid-2000s, “continuing to learn about jazz by hanging out with older collectors and aficionados, working in record stores, and auditing Archie Shepp’s UMASS Amherst class Revolutionary Concepts In African American Music.” He began presenting concerts in Western Massachusetts in 1995, and formed Eremite the following year; its first release was Tri-P-Let, by the Jemeel Moondoc Trio.

Jemeel Moon Doc

Moondoc, a veteran of the 1970s loft jazz scene, hadn’t recorded in almost a dozen years when he and Ehlers connected. “It blew my mind in the worst way that such a brilliantly idiosyncratic musician hadn’t been recorded for that long a time. Getting Moondoc back on record was one of the very first things I wanted to do with Eremite,” he says. Moondoc would ultimately make seven albums for the label, ranging from duos with bassist William Parker, released as New World Pygmies, Volumes 1 and 2, to the 10-member Jus Grew Orchestra. One of the best is Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys, a quintet session featuring trumpeter Nathan Breedlove, vibraphonist Khan Jamal, bassist John Voigt and drummer Codaryl Moffett recorded live at the 2000 Vision Festival.

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Joshua Abrams is a Focused Force in Jazz and Film Scoring

Joshua Abrams

Photo by Mikel Avery.

If Joshua Abrams is succeeding in jazz, it’s because he’s focused on three very distinct ideals: focus, continuity, and repetition. The Chicago-based bandleader has honed this particular vision of music since 2010, surrounding himself with a rotating group of players he calls the Natural Information Society. Until now, Google searches have yielded little more than “Did you mean…” suggestions, but with Abrams’s latest, Simultonality, the bass player has amassed a larger following than ever before.

“We make the music we want to make, and it will do what it needs to do,” Abrams states matter-of-factly. In other words, his growing popularity is a nice bonus, but the music—and how he makes it—won’t change.

On Simultonality, he’s joined by the same group of musicians with whom he toured in support of his previous record, marking the first time Abrams has recorded with the same group he’s performed with. On past records, Abrams would assemble groups of friends to play—a hodgepodge approach that resulted in free-flowing collaboration. But on Simultonality, the cohesion is evident: The playing is sharp and confident, and anchored to a solid core. Simultonality walks an impressive line between freedom and restraint. We talked with Abrams about his early days in Chicago, Krautrock legends CAN, and the adjustments needed to make a film score.

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