FREE BASS: Excavations 1 is the new solo record by Chicago’s celebrated multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams expected to hit the streets on June 15 on Feeding Tube Records in a vinyl only edition of 500 (includes a digital download). A quasi homage to “the 50th anniversary of the recording of the first free bass solo LP, Barre Phillips’ Journal Violone.” Let’s get right into it.
From the top Unexplain starts its venture with scribbly strings that neigh voraciously. In a fully atonal suite of seven tracks, the tone is wide-ranging from short chortle to full tilt flare, moving right into Wager. Abrams’ strings sway back and forth, and even somehow layer over each other, and it sounds like a straight up live track, no level tricks. A man bent on, well, bending the bow to its extent. Crazy large birds come to mind in the squawk within, recalling the saxophone of Boston jazz powerhouse Charlie Kohlhase. The shifting bridge makes this visceral transition less than transparent, even when his upright comes into full view.
The gurgling murmur of the all-too-short Branches slides effortlessly into the manic mechanic Buzzards that is simply off the rails. Having just recently witnessed two of these wild-winged creatures just tear up the carcass of a squirrel in front of my house, I hear, loud and clear, what he’s going for. It’s percussion by way of any means at hand, rap-tap upon the belly of the beast, and do I hear coins rolling around? The track saws away, and for a moment one might imagine him tearing the chest of his instrument apart hoping to bear some golden doubloons. But, it’s not that kinda treasure chest. However, there is that grinding tool at work, venturing to locate something or other. A highly tactile, visceral set of aural contortions that do not relent on Lingo, in fact, go even further in dynamic scope. Sound effects aside, this man might have to get his instrument retooled after such a sweaty playing workout. As a listener you will be on the edge of your seat here, wondering about potential outcomes.
This is the kind of record that could easily become digitally remixed by others, with even more effects, likely electronic. But even stripped down, it stands its ground, and is as, if not more sonic than most likely contenders in the field. To call this ‘out jazz’ would even be a bit of a shortcoming, it’s so experimental and not at all just a heap of so-called noise. It’s active listening to a great extent, though Dag gets on my nerves after the last few pieces. Maybe it’s supposed to provoke me, maybe it’s a form of self determination to finish a technical challenge, or argument(?). Though don’t fret (?), bass heavy, breathy relief comes in the form of a somewhat truncated conclusion here with Scratching On It. Even with the volume less than half way up, my office floor trembles. This record is a far cry from the harmonious strangeness of, say, his out-of-print Magnetoception (2013). But here, there’s never a harshness, always keeping its cool, and stirring-up a blurry ending that leaves you on an ambiguous note. Recommended.