The holiday has ended, a new year has come bringing a new decade, time to post the first review 0f 2020 but with a look at the past. Well, not that far. Dropped on November 22nd, the album Ism by Junius Paul really hit my brain for the savageness that fills it. I’ve waited a while to see if the first impression persisted in time before writing something about it, and it actually happened. So here it is, my thoughts on this record via International Anthem!
Let me talk about Mr. Paul first. Graduated at St. Xavier University, he made his name out of two things: his contributions as a bassist in numerous ensembles like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and the tights that he wears. Yeah, you read well. Did you expect him to be endorsed by instrument companies? He loves his tights so much that he’s an ambassador for some small tights-maker businesses. And this is enough to define the peculiarity of his persona.
Ism represents his debut as a solo artist. The title is probably a joke between his name and the concept of music, the “is” in Ism is emphasized on the cover, so it could be something like “Junius Paul is m(usic)” or simply only one word, “Juniuspaulism”. The cover captures the spirit of the content: He’s standing high, looking something far that the viewer can only imagine, and a limited palette of colors testify the essence rather than the form. The record takes one hour and twenty minutes to be finished, so I decided to not explore it track by track as I usually do, but I’ll try to capture the nature of it.
There is no better track to take as an example as You Are Free to Choose. The title speaks for itself. It’s the artist speaking directly to the listener and, in this case, also the musicians involved. These are five minutes and a half of pure chaos. There are only three instruments, drums, double bass, and piano, but what a mess they create! The only recognizable figure is a sort of pulse hidden in the middle of the explosion of notes, you will find it by trying to nod your head. Every performer goes his own path, but their pulse, the common sense of rhythm is very solid. What a way to start the party! The following tracks are more disciplined, but the sensation is that everyone is keeping the energy back: you see the chaos behind the curtain, but you barely notice it. Bowl It is a slow build-up born from silence and a bit of noise. Drums and sax try to make some stabs while bass drones to create the foundation. The piece continues in View From The Moon, where a piano raises up over the sonic ground, building melodic alternating itself to the sax. Where Baker’s Dozen touches blues shores in a common A-B-A-B structure, Asé is a totally wild bass solo, just like an indisciplined child running without recognizable patterns. At a certain point, the drums enter to discipline the tempo, like parents towards the child and then everyone swings wild in the crazy uptempo The One Who Endures. The swing continues in Spocky Chainsey Has re-emerged with a slightly quieter mood, a very, very long track where the performers support each other as if they played together for a lot of time, and probably it’s so. Georgia tries to clean the mess with some dry funk and syncopated bass but then comes Twelve Eighteen West with something that could have figured in an experimental record by John Cage, so dense with sounds of furniture rather than proper instruments. Collant Denier is another mess of insanely fast swing that reminds the listener what Junius likes to wear. This is right before the slug track Paris. Atmospheric, moody and uncanny, the silence between blue notes speaks by itself, especially for the trumpet. After the passing live track Tune No. the violent crashes of Sprouts come, bringing the tributes to friends and family: Fred Anderson And A Half and Ma And Dad. Muted clean guitars the protagonists of the first one, a bombastic string section in the latter. Just like in American football, Two Minute Warning announces the end of the album, an uncontrollable piano flies over a ridiculous rhythm section, and then the Outro marks the end of the road: the man itself explains the reasons of his art with during a live performance, the audience listens and reacts. Curtains close.
Mastodontic both in length and content, Ism by Junius Paul has been the perfect end-of-the-decade jazz album, expressing the freedom of expression and nothing more, no useless technicality, no jokes: only essence.
Written for you by Music Pills
Previous end-of-the-year jazz review: the winter poetry of Annabel (Lee)
Previous jazz review: oriental soundscapes and greek muses sung by Yazz Ahmed
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