Sunday, January 27, 2019

Ben Lamar Gay - Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun (International Anthem, 2018)

This is an unusual and inventive collection of music composed, performed and produced by the  Chicago-born, occasional Brazil resident Ben Lamar Gay: cornetist, composer, and vocalist, working from music he has made over the last seven years but never had the opportunity to release. His music is diverse, colorful and bold, somewhat reminiscent of drummer Makaya McCraven, with one track tumbling into the next. After the spacey psychedelic intro, "Vitis Labrusca," the track "Muhal" develops with a fast tempo, scatting vocals and electronics evolving into sly lyrics as horns provide texture for multiple singers, leading to a confident strut through the arrangement and a completely modern approach to the music, adding keyboards for further framing. "Music for 18 Hairdressers: Braids and Fractals" uses an urgent instrumental progression of reeds pushing air like a pneumatic tube, feeding the data streams relentless hunger, while "Jubilee" uses pin-balling percussion and effects and punchy horns, beating, clanking and wheezing to life like an automaton. "A Seasoning Called Primavera" uses radio dial turning and static to lead into contemporary rhythm and blues vocals over electronic percussion, slinging out confident wordplay over an increasingly complex musical accompaniment. There is some strummed gypsy guitar with violin, on "Miss Nealie Burns" adding a surprising touch with atmospheric singing within the music, heading into "Me, Jayve & the Big Bee" with horns, saxophones being well handled in space, playing long tones. The middle section of the album is a fantasia of subtle electronics and gentle scatted vocals, with strings coming in to further add emotion to the atmosphere of the music, and smears of electronic sounds, building to a squall of discordant feedback, and evoking a sense of loss or of being lost as large chords pound down adding a further sense of oppressiveness. "Swim Swim" uses nimble guitar and crisp drumming, with half spoken vocals zipping in and out within the music, and a tight rhythm built on the drums and percussion. The vocals are framed by electronic flourishes as other voices join in as a chorus, bringing a powerful performance to a crescendo. A group of brief tracks pull together as the album nears conclusion using synthesizers to germinate a growing, unfolding soundscape, airy like looking at the sky as clouds drift across, moving directly into another section that adds chimes for a devotional, meditative feeling with a brief spoken word story accompanied by harmonica or squeezebox. Finally "Oh no...not again!" brings a full horn compliment, with guitar and chanted vocalization, grunting tuba and sparking cornet improvising well together and creating a fine piece of music. Crisp drums and wheezy accordion add further texture to the music along with insistent and repetitive guitar demanding forward movement, rushing headlong for the finish line. Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun -

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