premiere: debut from chicago avant-funk trio bottle tree, “open secret,” combines spirituality and african rhythms

February 17, 2017

The spirit of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the 51-years-old-and-running-strong powerhouse of black American avant-garde, runs deeply through “Open Secret,” the first track from Bottle Tree. The sound that the trio — composer/cornetist/synth player Ben Lamar Gay, vocalist/percussionist/scholar A.M. Frison, and Italian drummer Tommaso Moretti — evoke is what one imagines the great Art Ensemble of Chicago would have sounded like if asked to write a “hit.” Frison preaches a poetic incantation over a polyrhythmic bed straight out of West Africa, and then breaks into a powerful punk-soul vocal as indebted to Fishbone as to Motown. But it is on the chorus, a wonderfully positive call for unity that the “hit” potential comes into focus. “The open secret is we are one,” sings Frison. While all three chant the names of the true deities, “Allah” and “Amun Ra,” in the background. The whole thing is a statement of extreme individualism — creatively taking no shit, but spiritually giving it all.

By Piotr Orlov

Photo credit: Jaimie Branch