Review: Joshua Abrams, Tyler Damon, Forbes Graham & Ava Mendoza – Sometimes There Were Four (self-released, Apr 7)

It’s always nice to see musicians you recognize from all sorts of different places coming together for a single collaborative release. Sometimes There Were Four documents 39 minutes from a live performance in Chicago’s May Chapel last year, its title a fitting heading for the lively quartet improvisations that it contains. With Joshua Abrams (Magnetoception) on bass, Tyler Damon (Both Will EscapeTo the Animal Kingdom) on drums, Forbes Graham (Lagos Playground, which I reviewed here last October) on trumpet, and Ava Mendoza (who I had the pleasure of seeing live a few years ago) on guitar, the music twirls and ambles along at a digestible pace without sacrificing density. Mendoza’s guitar is the central element for much of the beginning section of “I Closed My Eyes,” her sporadic plucked chords and angular blues idioms echoing the legendary work of Zoot Horn Rollo on stranger Beefheart cuts like “Golden Birdies” before descending into textural extended technique mayhem. Each musician seems able to jump from traditional free jazz flurries to more abstract interjections at the drop of a hat; around the 17-minute mark of the opening track, Graham’s trumpet puffs a sprightly scale as Abrams shreds a punishing drone, while “Ready to Fall” flips that conventionality disparity when the latter’s bowed interjections contrast the former’s spittle-mincing squawks. A clear highlight of the album occurs once this second track settles in and Damon’s virtuosic percussion cacophonies finally unleash their full fury.

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