Chicago jazz mainstay bassist Joshua Abrams switches gears with a rigorously visceral new solo album | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Chicago jazz mainstay bassist Joshua Abrams switches gears with a rigorously visceral new solo album

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Bassist Joshua Abrams’s importance to Chicago’s jazz and improvised music scene over the last few decades is indisputable. He’s laid down the harmonic anchor in loads of disparate ensembles, providing muscle and shape to bands led by reedists Dave Rempis, Ernest Dawkins, and Jason Stein; cornetists Rob Mazurek and Josh Berman; flutist Nicole Mitchell; and drummers Hamid Drake and Mike Reed. That’s not even counting his membership in several combos that skirt clear genre lines, from the back-porch minimalism of Town & Country to the atmospheric art-rock of the Bird Show Band. As a leader he’s devoted his time to Natural Information Society, a trance-inducing combo that applies a grainy, panglobal spin on minimalism that doesn’t give much space to Abrams’s improvisational work. His first solo album, Excavations 1 (Feeding Tube), delivers a welcome glimpse into a radically different side of his practice, paying homage to a hearty, five-decade-long tradition of solo bass recordings by the likes of Barre Phillips, Dave Holland, Kent Carter, and Malachi Favors. Sticking largely with arco playing, Abrams uses his bow to extract viscerally astringent lines marked by biting harmonics. He’s always had a remarkable sense of time, and his sense of rhythm shines through even on his most tangled, texture-oriented runs. It’s as if he can’t help but push sound through space with a measured drive, but his general melodic instincts yield to a rigorous investment in color. There’s a passage toward the end of “Wager” with a singing tonality that momentarily reminds me of Slim Gaillard, but Abrams doesn’t stick to conventional turf for long, instead pivoting toward an acidic abrasiveness that pushes toward the edge of comfortable hearing. On “Buzzards” he conjures a sound halfway between a violently squeaking door and a machine that’s forcefully being stripped of its gears. Still, as noisy and unhinged as some of these pieces get, there’s no missing the bassist’s incredible control and mastery of his instrument in developing such wild extended techniques. Tonight serves as the album release party.   v

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