junius paul’s funky “baker’s dozen” reps chicago

November 1, 2019
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Though Junius Paul is most widely recognized recognized as a “jazz” bassist — who plays in a set of  improvisational groups as diverse as the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s sprawling orchestra on the one end, and tight, funky outfits like Makaya McCraven’s band on the other — him being from Chicago makes genre identifiers shallow and simplistic. All his music has a familiar code that Paul has cracked, and bent towards both tradition and his own will.

Simply listening to “Baker’s Dozen” off Junius’ upcoming album Ism, his long-awaited debut as a band-leader, displays the breadth of Paul’s parameters. It sounds like a glorious recreation of a Golden Era hip-hop loop until Jim Baker’s slinky synth and Rajiv Halim’s horn take the fat groove for a walk that’s a little high and a little outside. Potentially preposterous fun for the DJs and the players alike — which succinctly describes much of Ism, in fact.

What else the track, the album, and Paul’s place in Chicago’s deep musical heritage may be about, were among the topics that we asked Junius to speak on.

You have been playing improvised music in Chicago for a long time, and with an incredibly diverse, inter-generational cross-section of musicians, some who’ve already been ingrained in Chicago’s improvised music history, some who are entering that history now. Can you talk a little bit about what makes Chicago special?

Yes, I’ve been playing improvised music on the Chicago music scene since 2002. I began playing on the music scene through Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge. In my opinion one of the things that makes Chicago unique and special is the deep well of history in and out of music that has greatly influenced the music and overall art of the past and present day into the future. From Prohibition and before to the Civil Rights Era to the times of now, so many great musicians and groups such as the AACM, The Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire, Herbie Hancock and Sam Cooke to Makaya McCraven and NoName in addition to rappers like Common and Chance The Rapper, they are all embedded within the fabric of the city itself.

From what I understand, the process behind putting together and releasing Ism was a long one. And it has this great feeling of diversity of sounds and eras and feelings being brought together. Can you talk a little bit about what went into all that?

Ism is my debut album. I’m very proud to be putting this music out for people to take in. We began recording this project in the summer of 2016, and did a series of recorded live shows from June 2016 to December 2016 and summer 2018 up to a studio session in January 2019 with an array of musicians who are also all musicians that I consider my musical extended family, if you will. I have an extended history with every musician that I have played with on Ism. From avant-garde jazz to straight-ahead jazz to gospel, soul, hip-hop and more, I’ve been greatly influenced not only by the music but the musicians of these genres that I’ve been able to listen to and make music with. The music of the past will always have a place in the music of the present day and future, and that’s especially the case for my sound.

Talk a little bit about “Baker’s Dozen,” and Makaya McCraven’s post-production on it. How do you engage with these kind of studio-engineered vibes? Where do you think they fit in the world of improvised music, which is generally thought of as live-to-tape?

“Baker’s Dozen” features myself, Isaiah Spencer, Jim Baker and Rajiv Halim. The original track was recorded at Comfort Station (Chicago) in June 2016. Makaya did some chopping and looping of the original recording to create a beat, as is the case with some other tracks on the album. There are also many tracks of unedited long play on the album to create a nice balance with the beats and some edited sections. In my opinion, both aspects play an important role in documenting the musical story of Ism.

Junius Paul’s Ism drops on International Anthem Recording Co. in late November.