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Joshua Abrams Quartet: Unknown Known

John Sharpe By

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"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns—there are things we do not know we don't know." Strangely, Donald Rumsfeld didn't mention the unknown known: the things we don't acknowledge that we know. While the sleeve notes contain no reference to the former Secretary of State, the choice of title for the début by Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams' Quartet makes the connection inevitable. Of course, in one sense, the procedure of improvisation is an attempt to unlock new things which we don't think we know. It's an approach which the bassist airs thoroughly on the six cuts which constitute this disc.

Abrams proves an intriguing composer, working through both known and unknown constructs, often corralling several novel gambits into one title. He has chosen with care his collaborators from the Windy City's fertile scene. On tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, David Boykin is one of the town's better kept secrets, largely flying below the wider critical radar in spite of his long association with flautist Nicole Mitchell. His sinewy lines, with more than a hint of a young Sonny Rollins, often hew close to the lower registers where they contrast with the ringing vibes of Jason Adasiewicz. There can't be too many vibraphonists who can hold their own with reed titan Peter Brötzmann as Adasiewicz has on more than one occasion, and his shimmering counterpoint keeps options wide open harmonically, while the physicality he brings to his instrument makes for a powerful solo voice.

Abrams doesn't make himself prominent, but meshes closely with drummer Frank Rosaly, as the pair switch in and out of tempo with practised smoothness. Rosaly also confirms himself an inventive texturalist, adding an important ingredient to the leader's conception. On the title track, different time signatures between drums and bass overlap to create an uneasy momentum which spawns a potent freeform passage for the rhythm team before being abetted by Boykin's tenor skronk. The uncompromising stance continues via a scratchy bowed bass/squawking tenor duet, before finally resolving into a stately unison theme. Such multiple episodes also characterize the following "Boom Goes the Moon," before a second half which evolves into a lilting ballad in which the reedman drifts and soars majestically.

Thereafter matters become slightly more predictable. "Settle Down" starts at a lope with a nagging bass clarinet refrain, before opening out for some spirited work from tenor and vibes, while the brief "Pool" features gently swinging tenor over a faster tempo. "Leavening" is more of a surprise, possessing a ritual feel, accentuated by Rosaly's off kilter stomp and the leader's vocalized arco. It also boasts Boykin's strongest outing of the set, as he surges over a choppy pulse until edging into the falsetto range to finish. While all perfectly enjoyable, it is on the less straightforward, lesser-known tracks where the ensemble grabs the attention most.

Track Listing: Unknown Known; Boom Goes the Moon; Settle Down; Look Through It; Leavening; Pool.

Personnel: Joshua Abrams: bass; Jason Adasiewicz: vibes; David Boykin: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Frank Rosaly: drums.

Title: Unknown Known | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Rogue Art


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