Joshua Abrams Excavations 1

[Feeding Tube; 2018]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: free improvisation, free jazz, solo bass
Others: Barre Phillips, Fernando Grillo, Mark Dresser

The process of excavation is a difficult one. It’s almost like a torture — a forceful exposition of something hidden, buried beneath and long forgotten. The object revealed always seems alien to us, even if its purpose or form is not unusual or far removed from our experience. One does not even have to necessarily dig deep in the sands of distant deserts; an excavation can be performed on an object that is absolutely mundane, like a pen on your desk, a hammer in the drawer. It’s more akin to a way of looking at objects that moves beyond our seeing them through the lens given by their everyday uses, beyond our way of understanding them by unconsciously equating them with their function. As Heidegger put it, a simplest object can become weird to us when we approach it “not by looking at it and establishing its properties, but rather by the circumspection of the dealings in which we use it.”

Is this what Joshua Abrams does to his bass? It’s an instrument that has been delegated to a simple yet extremely important rhythmic function for a long time. As such, the bass has become associated with a given set of sounds in which we immediately recognize and have long since internalized. Excavations 1, then, seems like a question about the nature of the instrument, about what it can do beyond that which is known and expected of it. Herein lies the reason for the pain that Abrams must cause to his instrument to get answers from it. After the somewhat shy opener in the form of “Unexplain,” second track “Wager” marks the early point at which the bass begins to scream, its abrupt sounds forming abrasive melodies that offer only brief moments of comprehensibility. Then comes “Buzzards,” which makes it sound like it’s being pulled apart, creaking and moving from low to high pitches in an almost random manner. Later, “Lingo” offers perhaps the most interesting moment of the album, where the bass speaks in what sounds like incomprehensible sentences.

But how much have we learned, in the end? Abrams drags the instrument through its paces and shows his mastery over it, but his unearthing falls a bit short on novelty. A lot of what happens during the album’s 40 minutes feels strangely familiar, even though the sounds we hear are alien and unusual. That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. Another avant-garde solo bass album is always a worthwhile endeavor, and Excavations 1 reminds us that Abrams is still here to challenge us.

Links: Joshua Abrams - Feeding Tube

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