Josh Abrams’s prolific activity fits right in with his Chicago residency where players are constantly forming new combinations and contexts for their music. The All Music Guide lists over 200 entries (a pretty staggering number for a musician still under 40) to his name in a diverse array of genre settings from jazz to African-influenced folk to avant rock. With that kind of packed docket, opportunities under his leadership are understandably few, and even when such dates come along they are expressly collaborative affairs. Unknown Known fits right into the framework, but like all of Abrams’s work, it’s anything but predictable or rote.
Abrams is versed in a small multitude of instruments, but sticks to double bass for this studio date, and the program’s six pieces are all deeply grounded in jazz-based interplay. Vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and drummer Frank Rosaly are regular colleagues, heard most recently with Abrams as the backing trio for flautist Nicole Mitchell’s excellent Aquarius. They’ve gigged together so frequently that rapport comes quickly and easily. This and a sometimes slanted mix make reedist David Boykin almost seem like the odd man out in spots, although he holds his own on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet.
Abrams’s compositions often build off anchoring, rhythmically fluid bass lines. The title piece and “Boom Goes the Moon” illustrate his artistry with fingers and bow, respectively, in directing the action from positions of relative restraint. On the latter piece, Adasiewicz’s mallets enter into an exquisite dialogue with arco string scribbles and furtive tenor textures, but Boykin is nearly drowned out by the frothing rhythmic waves summoned by his partners. Equilibrium ensues in the more relaxed second half of the track and the tenorist responds with his most soulfully ecstatic playing of the session. The pulsing ostinato at the center of “Settle Down” is corpulent and elastic, anchoring Adasiewicz’s floating tones and the grainy nasalized honks of Boykin’s bass clarinet as Rosaly lays down a rolling backbeat broken by time signature-dissolving interludes.
Loose-limbed swing is the thing on “Look Through It,” with more beautiful Boykin tenor creativity and ridiculous mallet ingenuity from Adasiewicz all forwarded on a swaying, bobbing bass line from the leader. Up-tempo and effervescent, “Pool” finds Abrams keeping a finger-abrading pace without sacrificing an iota of tonal clarity and Boykin running down fleet boppish phrases across Adasiewicz’s swollen sustains. The liners intimate spiritual overtones and intentions, but the music communicates just as well without those metaphysical underpinnings. This session echoes the musical culture of the city of its inception without being at all constrained by it.