Track: Mind Maintenance – ‘Valence’: further cognitive hygiene for mbira and guimbri calls you to the hearth

Chad Taylor (left) and Joshua Abrams, photographed by Asal Shahindoust

WHEN Chicago rhythm section masters Chad Taylor and Joshua Abrams get together to play, you know the results will be intelligent, off-kilter, crisp; intuitive.

The pair have worked together in the engine room on so, so many great and cred records down the past coupla decades, including for the Chicago Underground Trio and all its various spiralling iterations, Brokeback, Sam Prekop’s beautiful self-titled set and Who’s Your New Professor?, Jeff Parker, Rob Mazurek, Marc Ribot, Iron & Wine, The Roots, Edith Frost, Godspeed, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (and breathe).

But on June 11th they step out with a record of their own, put together as Mind Maintenance; on which they bring that almost supernatural understanding they have and an esoteric collection of instrumentation more usually associated with world music than the jazz/experimental/indie that they often flower from; hit record. Bliss record. Intriguing record.

They’ve released a further single, “Valence”, which you can hear below. Remember: mind maintenance is the thing here.

On the track and indeed, the album as a whole, Joshua and Chad exploring the respective melodic and percussive possibilities of the guimbri, a three-stringed Moroccan bass usually found in that nation’s traditional Gnawa musical tradition; and the mbira, the chiming, African thumb piano family of instruments that herein Chad wields as a percussive-melodic delight.

“Valence” fuses the transcendence of Alice Coltrane with the minimalism of Terry Riley and an organic earthiness; the sound of an older tradition calling us to contemplate.

It is sorta world music, it is definitely sorta jazz, it’s also pretty much a rootsy ambient; it’s really rather cool and transporting, refusing easy categorisation in the absolute best way – oh, apart from being rather great. But it’s not, overarchingly, about any of those genres; it is about mind maintenance. It’s a music as a focus, as a door to better cognitive practice, to a spiritual health.

“Valence” is a little cloudier than some tracks on the self-titled album and also the longest piece therein, at a cent short of eight minutes; it’s an incantation whose melodic stream you’ll soon blur into; it seeps into the blood in chime and repetition. It’s a music to commune at dusk to; a proclamation of guarding and centring to the world beyond the hearth.

We’ll be publishing our album review on the morning of release day, June 11th, and we summate it thus: “If you’re a fan of the first, self-titled Sam Prekop album (and any right-thinking human should be), upon which Chad and Josh are the bedrock, then you’ll know the deft touch they bring to a recording. Strip back the vocals and guitars, shift it east a continent, that’s an imprecise guide to the essence and soul of what you get here.

“So: it ain’t full of 48-track post-production and everything polished to an airless shine; but that’s what makes it lovely. It’s a record to bound you and connect you and rod the lightning strikes of how it’s all lurching out there, a behemoth of reactivity and stridency smashing its leathery way through the china shop of our civilisation. It’s a warm friend to spend downtime with, an aural vade mecum to help satisfy your mind. Take often, with water.”

Mind Maintenance’s self-titled album will be released by Drag City on June 11th digitally and on vinyl; hey, you can make financial arrangements to secure your copy now over at the label shop and at Bandcamp.

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