2019: A Bass Odyssey.
2019: A Bass Odyssey. Andrea Falcone

Junius Paul, "Baker's Dozen" (International Anthem)

Chicago bassist Junius Paul's debut LP Ism came out in November, but for mysterious reasons, I only laid ears on it this month. My bad. Had I heard it upon its release, it would've gone into my top-10 albums list of 2019—and I would've had an extra two months of life-enhancing sounds coursing through my auditory canals. Oh, well. Making up for lost time, I find myself digging the variety of moods, rhythms, atmosphere, and melodies zigzagging throughout the sprawling, 17-track full-length, which has been three years in the making.

Ism is yet another document from the fertile International Anthem label that further amplifies the 21st-century's jazz renaissance. Co-produced by Paul and Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven (another IA star and one with whom Paul sometimes performs), the album pivots off and augments advances made by jazz's '60s and '70s vanguard: Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Julius Priester, Herbie Hancock, and Art Ensemble of Chicago. Paul's upright bass-playing is supple, tensile, and at times febrile, his improvisations—manifested with some of the city's top musicians—always action-packed, whether they're under a minute or almost 20.

Paul cut "Baker's Dozen" in 2016 with drummer Isaiah Spencer, keyboardist Jim Baker, and saxophonist Rajiv Halim. Its swinging funk rhythm will thrill any fans of Miles's On the Corner, Priester's Love, Love, or Material's Memory Serves. But what really sends the chills is the fibrillating skree that derives from a synth, but it sounds as if it could be from an ocarina, a rhaita, or a weirdly tuned guitar. The eldritch high frequencies contrast wonderfully with Paul's buoyant low-end flexing and the head-nodding beats that slap with the vigor of a mid-'90s DJ Krush sample. "Baker's Dozen" is Ism's obvious club banger, but it's only the tip of an iceberg of robust creativity.