The good intentions of music media are often rarely supported by critics with accurate historical perspective and the kind of balanced criticism that comes from what W.H. Auden called an ability that comes from “making, knowing and judging” is largely to blame for a gifted artist either being miscast or sidelined altogether. While someone such as Casey Abrams may not have suffered a tragic fate as a result, the supremely gifted vocalist and bassist has certainly not been given his due and is, as a result, left to somewhat rue his success as the face of the Post-Modern Jukebox, a group that seems to have emerged as a somewhat made-for-social-media and so by nature a made-for-short-memory, dilettantish musical entity rather than a group of serious experimental musicians.
Mr Abrams deserves more – much more – than he is given credit for. He is a very accomplished bassist whose astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. On Jazz a beautifully simple and innovative album Mr Abrams’ playing comes across as spontaneous and meditative; at once simple, lyrical, abstract and profound. His magnificent tone gives every note the purity of song. This art of “song” is very much at the heart of Jazz. It is what has determined the choice of eloquent repertoire each song of which has then been turned into something unique by its spare arrangement played by an unusual combination of musicians around Mr Abrams’ contrabass. The result is breathtaking.
From one song to the next Mr Abrams brings his dewy (sometimes raspy) voice which resonates from all four chambers of the human anatomy – head, mouth, chest and nasal (mask) – creates an unique effect of coming from a place that swings between vulnerability and resilience. The manner in which Mr Abrams shapes and sculpts his phrases is also unusual. Sometimes he weaves one into the other as if fashioning a delicate fabric, while at other times he whips them around often using one to stab its way into the heart of a song. But he never mixes these singing styles together; rather he uses each (among other gestures and devices) to dig into the emotion of the songs, which always seem to speak to him in a very unusual way while the contrabass, his intimate partner, waltzes and swings him – and the song – into unchartered realms.
One of the most attractive aspects of this recording is the manner in which supporting musicians – although you can hardly call musicians “supporting” when they participate so equal and fulsomely in every song – respond to Mr Abrams and therefore “complete” each song as a work of art. Giveton Gelin’s lonesome trumpet seeming to cry out in the heartless night as Mr Abrams sings “Round Midnight”, for instance, or flute of the inimitable Anne Drummond seeming to sashay and swing to the rhythm of the sensuous gait of “The Girl from Ipanema”; Mark Whitfield’s guitar seeming to trill and rustle and as “Autumn Leaves” start to fall as Jimmy Greene’s tenor saxophone whooshes like the breath of the wind.
This is music that is full of insightful colours, created with a perfect measure of limpid introspection and fantasy, captured in living, breathing sound as only Nicholas Prout (with his Binaural technology) and Chesky Records can. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Track list – 1: Autumn Leaves; 2: I’ve Got the World on a String; 3: Need Your Love So Bad; 4: You Are So Beautiful; 5: Why Don’t You Do Right? 6: Hound Dog; 7: One Note Samba; 8: L-O-V-E; 9: The Girl from Ipanema; 10: Fly Me to the Moon; 11: Round Midnight; 12: Blackbird
Personnel – Casey Abrams: bass; Anne Drummond: flute; Mark Whitfield: guitar; Giveton Gelin: trumpet; Jimmy Greene: tenor saxophone
Released – 2019
Label – Chesky Records (JD 420)
Runtime – 42:56