Take Five: Ben Lamar Gay, Irreversible Entanglements, Bill Charlap, Matthew Stevens and Miki Yamanaka
Ben Lamar Gay, "Sometimes I Forget How Summer Looks on You (feat. Ohmme)"
Summer may be behind us, but Ben Lamar Gay isn't finished with it yet. On the engrossing lead single from his forthcoming album, Open Arms to Open Us, this multi-instrumentalist and composer invokes the season just past as a means of describing a relationship in motion. "I forget / How much you glow," he sings, over a polyrhythmic blur of synthesizers and rolling percussion. (Gay plays an array of these instruments; his drummer is Tommaso Moretti.)
The video for the song — filmed in Gay's hometown, Chicago — depicts three young women playing Double Dutch, often framed in closeup. Singing background are Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, who make up the core of the Chicago rock band OHMME. There's pulsating energy in this track, like heat radiating from the concrete. But Gay also encodes a certain bittersweetness, explaining that the song was "inspired by the preparation one makes for another when it’s time for them to enter or exit an embrace, a memory or a life."
Open Arms to Open Us is due out Nov. 19 on International Anthem and Nonesuch; preorder here.
Irreversible Entanglements, "Lágrimas Del Mar"
Open the Gates, the highly anticipated third album by Irreversible Entanglements, announced its presence last month with a coiled-spring title track. The second single from the album is "Lágrimas Del Mar," which insinuates more than it insists, though that doesn't detract from its power.
First comes the rolling groove, courtesy of bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Tcheser Holmes. Then come Aquiles Navarro on trumpet and Keir Neuringer on alto saxophone, calling to mind the jostling front-line interplay of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. It isn't until almost three-and-a-half minutes in that Moor Mother (poet Camae Ayewa) makes her entrance, with a recitation that alludes to postcolonial distress even as it inhabits a personal scale. "I'm so close to the good news," she intones. "The silver and gold / The daily bread / I'm so close."
Open The Gates will be released on Nov. 12 on Don Giovanni and International Anthem; pre-order here.
Bill Charlap Trio, "The Duke"
The Bill Charlap Trio — Charlap on piano, Peter Washington on bass, Kenny Washington on drums — just concluded a two-week run at The Village Vanguard, which suggests a welcome return to some kind of normal. The group, which first got together in 1997, is making another return this season — to Blue Note Records, which released several of its previous albums, most recently Live At the Village Vanguard in 2007.
The trio's new album, Street of Dreams, will be released on Nov. 12 (preorder here). And the label has released a lead single: an unflaggingly tasteful version of "The Duke," one of Dave Brubeck's most enchanting tunes. Listen for the soft, sparkling details in Charlap's pianism — and the way that the Washingtons keep the engine purring, and shift into higher gear with a satisfying cymbal crash at 3:20.
Miki Yamanaka, "Oatmeal"
Pianist and composer Miki Yamanaka last caught our ear with Human Dust Suite, an assured album released just over a year ago. She recorded her latest, Stairway to the Stars, in her New York apartment in late summer of 2020. In that sense, it was made under pandemic duress — but you'd never know it, judging only by the music.
Yamanaka's partners here are tenor saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Orlando le Fleming — there's no drummer, perhaps in part because the neighbors would have complained — and the material ranges from Charlie Parker ("Cheryl") to Steve Swallow ("Eiderdown"). On the sinuous, swinging original "Oatmeal," which nods in the direction of Cedar Walton, their rapport is relaxed yet driving, with an elegant resolution around every sharp corner.
Stairway to the Stars is available now on Outside in Music.
Matthew Stevens, "Ending is Beginning"
Finally, here's another vivid example of "the pandemic giveth, the pandemic taketh away." Around this time last year, Matthew Stevens was hunkered down in Pittsburgh, his wife's hometown, with a virtual teaching gig (at the Peabody Institute) and a vintage Martin acoustic guitar (a 00-17, in mahogany). One day, biking on rain-slicked streets, he slipped and broke an elbow. That acoustic guitar became a part of his recovery process, both in terms of physical rehabilitation and a creative spur.
Pittsburgh, Stevens' hauntingly interior new album, is a collection of acoustic solo pieces that came out of that time. Some, like "Blue Blues" and "Ambler," explore a range of rhythmic and textural ideas. Others, like this lyrical ballad, inhabit a pool of tranquility — and what better title for a song with this pedigree, in our current moment, than "Ending Is Beginning"?
Pittsburgh is available now on Bandcamp.