Review: Chris Williams – Of Yours (self-released, Feb 5)

As sound artist and composer Chris Williams himself states in the release description, his “first album without any trumpet” is certainly “a special work indeed.” Featuring heavily processed contributions from colleagues such as bassist Nick Dunston, percussionist Aaron Edgcomb, and trombonist Weston OlenckiOf Yours is a short five-part collage of evocative spoken word samples, sublime improvisatory tension, and a fragile, crystalline ambience that is both optimistic and somber. True to the cover, which was designed by Laura Sofía Pérez and primarily features a particularly suave photo of James Baldwin, most if not all of the speech used throughout the suite comes from the renowned writer and speaker (I’m quite terrible at identifying voices, however, so I could be wrong), whose simultaneously impassioned and calmly logical arguments—qualities that remain palpable even when recordings of him are chopped up or assembled—are just one of the many elements that make Of Yours a work truly “teeming with Blackness.” As far as I can tell, the samples are sourced from a 1968 documentary by Horace Ové, which featured Baldwin passionately conversing before an audience with comedian and activist Dick Gregory (listen to a recording of at least some of Baldwin’s portion here); while the film does a great deal to unite the often carelessly disconnected realities of the Black experience in individual white-supremacist states, Williams and Of Yours are deeply concerned with the American side of things, a focus encapsulated by the ironic “land of the free, home of the brave” motif that is repeated several times. Making use of the words of such a prominent figure might be a copout from actual significant creative contribution for some musicians, but not Williams; his endlessly layered sound-sculptures of ecstatic electronics and instrumental ephemera would be enough for a fully-realized work even on their own. The integration of Edgcomb’s virtuosic drum kit performance on “of” is particularly strong, as is the seething yet subdued closer “yours,” which acts as a sort of memorable coda or revisitation of all that came before. This new direction from the already eclectic and adventurous Williams is exciting, beautiful, and impossibly rich in emotion and meaning.

Note: though the cover reads “Chris Ryan Williams,” the album is officially credited to “Chris Williams.”

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