I had plunked a formidable heap of records onto the sales counter at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles last month, and it wasn’t until the sales clerk rang up Angel Bat Dawid’s latest, “The Oracle,” that we awoke from our transactional trance. The clerk told me she had recently caught the clarinetist-slash-keyboardist in concert, and that the music had made her weep. Not the clerk, Angel Bat Dawid.
Instead of swapping tales about performers puddling up onstage, I asked her who else she liked on International Anthem, the Chicago-born jazz label that released “The Oracle.” She had a great answer: “Everyone.”
Launched in 2014, International Anthem has a deepening discography that might offer the most cohesive portrait of Chicago’s expansive contemporary jazz community — artists blending the playful, the political, the personal and the experimental, all in the long shadow of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. “Not since the rise of the first generation of the [AACM] in the early 1970s had the city seen such a vibrant set of internationally acclaimed artists come into full focus,” writes Mike Reed in the recent book “The City Was Yellow: Chicago Jazz and Improvised Music 1980-2010.”
With the scene still in bloom, everything released on International Anthem this year has been relatively killer. Bassist Junius Paul’s new album, “Ism,” feels searching, sprawling and impossibly spry. Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble’s “Where Future Unfolds” pushes cosmic jazz into punky corners. Trumpeter Jaimie Branch’s “Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise” grooves and seethes. Freddie Douggie’s “Live on Juneteenth” — a collaboration between multi-instrumentalists Ben LaMar Gay and JayVe Montgomery — sifts for big meaning in heavy static. Resavoir, a younger group with a gift for wobbly harmonies, concludes its self-titled album with a sturdy vocal affirmation: “I love my life and it’s not over.”
Continuity is the main theme on “The Oracle,” too, recorded entirely on Angel Bat Dawid’s iPhone. The hallucinogenic keening of her clarinet and the poignant sweep of her singing voice channel something so ancient, it can only sound like the future. That isn’t an uncommon evocation in jazz, but the intimacy and intensity of this music brushes away any mystical fog. For all their cosmic ambition, these compositions feel deeply personal and artfully circumspect.
So maybe it’s no surprise to hear Angel Bat Dawid discuss the act of sobbing in an almost entirely functional way. “Tears are a survival mechanism for us to release our emotional pain,” she told the Guardian earlier this month, “and blues and spirituals were the technologies that we used to activate that sympathetic system, so that we can survive trauma.”
She’s crying with clear eyes. Seems impossible. Sounds incredible.
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