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Joshua Abrams' Chameleonic Quartet Gets Exuberantly Ornery On 'Cloud Script'

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Bassist Joshua Abrams is a mainstay of creative music in Chicago. He's made many dozens of records as a sideman, led his own band, Natural Information Society, and composed music for documentary films. His new album is for a quartet Abram's brought together to play at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in 2016 before recording the next day. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says they play music in contrasting moods.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA ABRAMS' CLOUD SCRIPT'S "IN PLACE OF MEMORY")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Joshua Abrams' tune "In Place Of Memory," where drummer Gerald Cleaver sets a deep, slow swing groove. It's from the album "Cloud Script" by Abrams' chameleonic quartet of the same name, with longtime ally Jeff Parker on guitar and veteran Chicago saxophonist Ari Brown. His economical playing and brawny tenor sound fit the leader's spare themes. A couple of ballads really show the saxophonist off. This is "Coniunctio," with the leader's nimble bass dancing behind.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA ABRAMS' CLOUD SCRIPT'S "CONIUNCTIO")

WHITEHEAD: Ari Brown on tenor sax. Joshua Abrams' quartet can groove and play pretty. But they all like free jazz, too. And a couple of pieces get exuberantly ornery. Guitarist Jeff Parker can get down and dirty within the ensemble fabric rather than strutting out in front.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITEHEAD: Jeff Parker does some very creative work in the background. At one point, he companies Ari Brown's tenor with clangy (ph) guitar harmonics - obstinate but somehow right, like Thelonious Monk's piano bombs behind a horn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WHITEHEAD: Joshua Abrams' main band, Natural Information Society, plays long, hypnotic jams inspired by Moroccan trance music. That influence comes out on "Harbor." Repetitive music takes another kind of discipline. But these four players catch that wave, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA ABRAMS' CLOUD SCRIPT'S "HARBOR")

WHITEHEAD: That bold base is notably low in the mix. Most leaders like to put a little more me in there. That ego-free sound balance is typical of Joshua Abrams, a sign the music on "Cloud Script" is less about him than the collective. It's about being part of something bigger, where each player is stronger for all the ways they interlock.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOSHUA ABRAMS' CLOUD SCRIPT'S "HARBOR")

BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the new book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed "Cloud Script," the new album by bassist Joshua Abrams and his quartet. After a break, I'll look at the TV coverage of Wednesday's attack on the U.S. Capitol. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORACE SILVER'S "OPUS DE FUNK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.