Chicago-based polymath Ben LaMar Gay makes music that is austere and sprawling. Like many musicians of his generation, he regards genre boundaries with something bordering on contempt. His music gracefully moves through jazz, post-rock, Brazilian, electronic, and about a half-dozen other styles without sounding like a flex. Instead, this broad diversity makes his introspective declarations more urgent and savvier, as if he’s found the key to a special sort of inspiration.
His latest recording, Certain Reveries, is the leanest of his recent efforts, and the circumstances of the composition may have had a little to do with that. The music was conceived as a single longform piece, composed for Gay and percussionist Tommaso Moretti, and it was presented as part of the EFG London Livestream festival in 2020 with an accompanying film showing Gay alone in his Chicago apartment. The great, boisterous music of saxophonist Eddie Harris is claimed as an inspiration, though the connection is abstract at best.
Certain Reveries opens with electronically altered music that sounds like field recordings on “You Ain’t Never Lied.” Then it shifts to drum-and-cornet duets on “Parade Debris.” Gay’s cornet recalls the puckish precision of Lester Bowie with a side helping of Wadada Leo Smith introspection. The two approaches converge nicely on “The Bioluminescence of Nakedness” and “Agua Futurism,” demonstrating both depth and elegance. Overall, the recording and its recent predecessors, Open Arms to Open Us and East of the Ryan, establish Gay as another ambitious figure in a Chicago music scene that champions relentless innovation.