Joshua Abrams Quartet

Unknown Known
Rogueart R0G-0045

Envision Bags & Trane if bassist Paul Chambers was leading the session and the program played was all his compositions. That’s a simple way to imagine the achievements of this disc, although the most known unknown on this Chicago-recorded session is that without legend emulation, the bassist-leader and crew have created a high-gloss, well-paced CD that’s comfortable (post) modern without being too experimental.

One of the most in-demand bassists in the Windy City, Joshua Abrams has a high profile with a variety of bands, working with everyone from flutist Nicole Mitchell to guitarist Jeff Parker. This quartet – like the Modern Jazz Quartet – is filled out by others who are often leaders of their own bands in Chicago. Vibist Jason Adasiewicz, who takes the Milt “Bags” Jackson role here is also part in different Rob Mazurek projects; tenor saxophonist David Boykin, who comes out of the John Coltrane-lineage via the AACM connection, is cast in the Trane spot; while Frank Rosaly, like Connie Kay in his day, is also a busy sideman in bands led by the vibraphonist, Mazurek, Parker and saxophonist Dave Rempis.

Exhibiting the type of collectivity that seems endemic to Chicago jazzers, in one way this CD also resembles one lead by a vibraphonist or a saxophonist, precisely because Abrams keep himself in the background and refuses to cram multiple bass solos into every track. Providing the powerful unwavering time sense for his six original compositions, when the bull fiddler does step forward, as on “Settle Down” and “Leavening”, it’s only briefly. On the first tune it’s for a staccato romp up and down his string set. The second is a bit more spectacular sine Abrams’ askew sul ponticello runs and triple stopping show off his speed as well as his comfort working in the lowest pitches.

As the most so-called avant-garde track on the CD, “Leavening” also gives plenty of exposure to the other players. Rosaly’s unusual intro includes wooden block clangs and bell ringing; stretched tremolo judders arrive from Adasiewicz; and blistering multiphonics from Boykins that encompass slurs, substitutions, canine-whistles and altissimo mastery are also featured. At the same time, the theme, like many of the other tunes here is resolved with comfortable swing bounces.

With other pieces ranging from the straight-ahead swinger that “Settle Down” is and the Monkish accents that appear on “Boom Goes the Moon”, Unknown Known is more conventional than Trane’s later work, but serves as a showcase for modern, evolving improvisers who avoid Bop recreation as much as they eschew avant-garde clichés. As he has shown elsewhere, the vibist is the most forthright soloist. An evolution from Jackson’s ballads and Blues orientation, his approach is both slurry and jittery. Disposed towards resonating glissandi, his note patterns are used to spread a thick coat of connective phrases throughout his playing. Moreover, at points Adasiewicz’s staccato tones whack up the excitement facto, especially when they’re displayed in perfect counterparts to Boykins’ reed bites and split tones –Bags & Trane redux in avant form.

Honest Jazz of the first order the only Unknown Known here is how quickly it will take for the quartet members to each be universally celebrated as a top-flight player – like Bags & Trane.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Unknown Known 2. Boom Goes the Moon 3. Settle Down 4. Look Through It 5. Leavening 6. Pool

Personnel: David Boykin (tenor saxophone); Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone); Joshua Abrams (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums)