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Ben LaMar Gay – Open Arms to Open Us (2021) [Official Digital Download 24bit/44,1kHz]

Ben LaMar Gay – Open Arms to Open Us (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24bit/44,1kHz | Time – 46:03 minutes | 526 MB | Genre: Jazz, Blues, R&B
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © International Anthem

Ben LaMar Gay’s Open Arms To Open Us was produced and recorded at International Anthem Studios in Chicago between March and June of 2021. Across sixteen tracks Gay fluently interweaves jazz, blues, ballads, R&B, raga, new music, nursery rhyme, tropicalia, two-step, hip-hop and beyond in a beaming expression of his signature omni-genre “Pan-Americana” brew. Alongside his own sizable toolkit of instruments (cornet, keyboards, synthesizers, flutes, percussions), Gay surrounds himself with steady bandmates (including Tommaso Moretti on drums, Matthew Davis on tuba, and Rob Frye on woodwinds), while also shining the spotlight on female artists from his cast of regular collaborators. Featured artists on the album include: OHMME singers Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, bassist/vocalist/arranger Ayanna Woods, multi-disciplinary Rwandan artist Dorothée Munyaneza, poet A.Martinez, cellist Tomeka Reid, and vocalists Onye Ozuzu, Gira Dahnee, and Angel Bat Dawid. Gay says the album’s title is “a suggestion of a body movement that is used in many spiritual practices and is also a gesture that represents a type of understanding that leads to touch or a hug.” He also says, “Open Arms to Open Us deals with rhythm as an inheritance of information – sort of like DNA or RNA. Coping with the present-day bombardment of data and recycled ideologies from sources essentially fed by the creed ‘Destroy Them. Own the Earth,’ often leaves me with only one thing to look forward to: Rhythm.”

Ben LaMar Gay’s primary instrument is the cornet and hails from Chicago’s historically vibrant scene of daring musical improvisers. These two facts alone have put him in the same conversation as several other “new American jazz saviors” who are blazing trails in the genre. And while Gay is certainly doing that, the depth, breadth, and reach of his work has pushed him far beyond any traditional notions of jazz or what its practitioners can accomplish. Gay is steeped in the possibilities of improvisation and instrumental interplay, but also interested in storytelling via his music, giving his works a philosophical and compositional solidity that’s more akin to contemporary classical music than anything else. Heck, he plays cornet on fewer than half of the tracks here, opting instead for percussion instruments, synthesizers, and even a zither. With Open Arms to Open Us, Gay is even more daring in his approach and uncompromising in his vision than on his previous releases, but also profoundly more focused from a thematic and compositional aspect; it is an ambitious album, by an ambitious artist at the peak of their powers and it absolutely should be his breakout moment.

Opener “Sometimes I Forget How Summer Looks On You,” is a richly melodic slice of lyrically beautiful cosmic funk featuring vocals by Ohmme’s Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham and dizzying drumwork by drummer Tommaso Moretti. It’s followed by “Hood Rich Happy,” a loping, groove-oriented interlude that’s half distortion, half smooth jazz, and then the griot-esque “Bang Melodically Bang.” The relatively straightforward nature of this opening salvo soon unfolds into a much more expansive universe of rhythm-forward exploration starting with “Aunt Lola and the Quail,” which evokes a pastoral trance that’s part cultural imprint, part universal truth. Whether the sounds of rope skipping, looping drum programs, or jazz percussion, rhythm drives everything forward, acting as a cultural throughline from Gay’s family roots into the present and on toward the future. “Lean Back. Try Igbo” and “S’Phsticated Lady (featuring Gira Dahnee and Angel Bat Dawid),” both under two minutes, are astonishingly fully formed ideas built upon innovative rhythms; they are integral to the work, even if they don’t feel like “proper” songs. “In Tongues and In Droves” is a dense, immersive clash between psychedelic loops and spiritual improvisation. Even on a cut like the lovely and intense “Nyuzura,” where rhythm isn’t the focal point, Gay unmoors the piece from place and time by coupling a singer of African origin (Rwandan vocalist Dorothée Munyaneza) with his own zither-playing and a bass synth. So yes, Gay moves through many different modalities and atmospheres throughout the album, but it is still remarkably consistent and deeply considered, showing that he’s gone fully beyond being even jazz-adjacent and into a new realm of emotionally rich musical storytelling built upon thoughtful composition and inventive improvisation. – Jason Ferguson

1. Sometimes I Forget How Summer Looks on You (feat. Ohmme) (03:27)
2. Hood Rich Happy (01:26)
3. Bang Melodically Bang (03:09)
4. Aunt Lola and the Quail (04:15)
5. Mestre Candeia’s Denim Hat (01:53)
6. Oh Great Be The Lake (03:00)
7. I Be Loving Me Some Of You (02:07)
8. Nyuzura (feat. Dorothée Munyaneza) (03:26)
9. Slightly Before The Dawn (03:25)
10. Lean Back.Try Igbo (feat. Onye Ozuzu) (01:19)
11. Dress Me In New Love (01:53)
12. Touch. Don’t Scroll (feat. Ayanna Woods) (04:25)
13. I Once Carried A Blossom (feat. A.Martinez) (00:59)
14. In Tongues And In Droves (feat. Tomeka Reid) (05:20)
15. S’Phisticated Lady (feat. Gira Dahnee and Angel Bat Dawid) (01:35)
16. We Gon Win (04:18)


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