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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Ben Lamar Gay - Certain Reveries (International Anthem, 2022)

 By Stef Gijssels

Chicago trumpeter and composer Ben Lamar Gay is touring around Europe at the moment with his quartet consisting of Tommaso Moretti on drums, Matt Davis on tuba and Edhino Gerber on guitar, and it was one of the best concerts I've seen in years, a true musical listening experience, a journey from ancient tribal trance-like incantations to modern electronics with a very strong dose of AACM influence, especially the Art Ensemble of Chicago, possibly mixed with the eclectic approach of a Don Cherry. There is only music, with sorrow, joy, magic, creative surprises and personal authenticity. Lamar Gay does not care about genre or style. He cares about authenticity and creativity. Every sound is possible, as long as it resonates with his musical vision. Check out his other albums that we reviewed over the years. 

On "Certain Reveries", we find him in a duo setting with Tommaso Moretti on drums, and as can be expected, he turns this format into his own kind of approach. The straightforward acoustic cornet-drums improvisations are embedded in a longer narrative with electronic drones, rhythms and themes providing the background for Lamar Gay's idiosyncratic singing and shouting. His music gives the paradoxical impression of on the one hand not caring much about musical roots and influences, because he does his own thing, totally out of the ordinary, while on the other hand performing full of reverence for all types of music. 

The opener, "You Ain't Never Lied", starts with electronically distorted singing, a kind of plaintive incantation, with repeats and echo, setting the scene for the magic to come, in the form of even more electronics, a deep rhythmic pulse that pushes the singing to the background, and opens the space to Morretti's exceptional drumming and even more vocals merging into a mesh of sound. It is uncanny, weird and incredibly compellling. To dispell any thoughts that jazz is dead, the second piece, "Paradise Debris", starts with cornet and drumming, wild and free, rhythmic and intense, with drone-like electronics weaving a dark background for the fresh acoustic interaction between the two instruments, that by itself is full of - rhythmic - surprises, seamlessly moving to "To Be Behaved Upon", another genre-breaking mix of incantantion and electronics. 

Lamar Gay and Morretti do not alternate between cornet-percussion duets or more electronic-driven pieces. Anything can happen at anytime. On "The Bioluminiscence of Nakedness", Lamar Gay uses his mini-keyboard for some wild soloing with just a few notes, while Morretti goes berserk on his kit, paving the way for a real jazzy cornet intervention. Anything can happen in Lamar Gay's musical universe, and it does. 

His musical inventiveness and creativity know no boundaries, yet he manages to control this into a very coherent narrative, that can be overwhelming, deeply spiritual, compelling, or plain funny. 

Because the music takes such a wide sweep at different musical genres, die-hard free jazz fans may raise some eyebrows when hearing this, yet on the other hand you will need very open ears to enjoy it to the full. 

So, I can only recommend to open those ears to new concepts, and to welcome Ben Lamar Gay in your catalogue of great music. 

The entire performance was presented live at the EFG London Jazz Fest in 2020 and is accompanied by a video that you can watch below, a tribute to the late inventor/composer Eddie Harris


Ian said...

I think the comment, "Anything can happen at anytime", is extremely apt for this project. Big fan, I ordered the cassette and am looking forward to experiencing it again. Great review.