Open Arms to Open Us lives up to NPR's claim that "there is no one universe for Ben LaMar Gay, he just sonic booms from one sound to another." On the album, recorded at International Anthem studios in Chicago, Gay interweaves jazz, blues, ballads, R&B, raga, new music, nursery rhyme, Tropicália, two-step, hip-hop, and beyond in his most colorful and communicable work yet, an expression of his signature omni-genre, "Pan-Americana" brew.
Composer, singer, and instrumental polymath Ben LaMar Gay's album Open Arms to Open Us was released November 19 on International Anthem / Nonesuch Records. The album lives up to NPR's claim that "there is no one universe for Ben LaMar Gay, he just sonic booms from one sound to another."
Open Arms to Open Us was produced and recorded at International Anthem Studios in Chicago between March and June of 2021. Across sixteen tracks Gay fluently interweaves jazz, blues, ballads, R&B, raga, new music, nursery rhyme, tropicalia, two-step, hip-hop and beyond in a beaming expression of his signature omni-genre “Pan-Americana” brew. Alongside his own sizable toolkit of instruments (cornet, keyboards, synthesizers, flutes, percussions), Gay surrounds himself with steady bandmates (including Tommaso Moretti on drums, Matthew Davis on tuba, and Rob Frye on woodwinds), while also shining the spotlight on female artists from his cast of regular collaborators. Featured artists on the album include: OHMME singers Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, bassist/vocalist/arranger Ayanna Woods, multi-disciplinary Rwandan artist Dorothée Munyaneza, poet A.Martinez, cellist Tomeka Reid, and vocalists Onye Ozuzu, Gira Dahnee, and Angel Bat Dawid.
Reflecting on the meaning of the music in a prologue he wrote for Open Arms to Open Us, Gay says the album’s title is “a suggestion of a body movement that is used in many spiritual practices and is also a gesture that represents a type of understanding that leads to touch or a hug.” He also says, “Open Arms to Open Us deals with rhythm as an inheritance of information – sort of like DNA or RNA. Coping with the present-day bombardment of data and recycled ideologies from sources essentially fed by the creed ‘Destroy Them. Own the Earth,’ often leaves me with only one thing to look forward to: Rhythm.”
This latest project is the follow up to Gay’s 2018 critically-acclaimed, debut album Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun, which was a compilation of previously-unreleased material composed and produced by Gay over seven years. It was heralded by Pitchfork, NPR, and the Guardian, the last of which called it, “a record of endless depth and unpredictability.” But Gay’s work is not limited to album releases. He has composed for dance troupes (including the Ruth Page Civic Ballet) and architectural features (including a 2019 duet with the DuSable Bridge in downtown Chicago), and also has done extensive film score work (including the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival award-winning documentary The Good Fight). In 2019 he debuted ‘Hecky Naw! Angels!’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, using video art and choreography to explore the shapes and sounds of Chicago’s Black social dances.
Recorded March—June 2021 at International Anthem Studios, Chicago
Produced by Ben LaMar Gay & Dave Vettraino
Engineered & Mixed by Dave Vettraino
Mastered by Dave Cooley
Art by Ayanah Moor
Layout by Craig Hansen
Available from Nonesuch Records in North and South America only.
Ben LaMar Gay, voice (1-6, 11, 12), organ (1, 6, 10), balafon (1), synths (1-6, 10-12, 14), synth and swang (7), sampler (2), temple blocks (2), programming (3, 16), cornet (4, 7, 9, 12-14, 16), manipulations (4), percussion (6, 7, 14), cítara (8), drum programming (8), bass synth (8), triangle (9), tangs (9), background voice (10), pandeiro (11, 15), beatbox (11), tings (12), kick drum (15)
Tommaso Moretti, drums (1-5, 8, 10-12, 16), xylophone (1), thangs (3), trance (4), percussion (9)
Macie Stewart, voice (1)
Sima Cunningham, voice (1)
Matthew Davis, tuba (3, 5, 11, 12, 14), trombone (12, 14, 16)
Angela, Leia and Mina, a mother raises her daughters up the mic (ooh Ahh AHH Ooh), voices (3)
Johanna Brock, violin (4), viola (4), light (4)
Tomeka Reid, cello (4, 14), voice (4), luz (4)
Rob Frye, flute (4, 6, 9, 14), tings and tungs, (4), ears (6), percussion (7), alto flute (16)
Ayanna Woods, voice (6, 12), light (6), ¡FreshNuss! (6), electric bass (9, 12), background voice (10)
Adam Zanolini, soprano saxophone (7, 9), oboe (7), swang (7)
Xoco, Hannah, Francesca, Angela, Adam, Benjamin, Love Choir (7)
Dorothée Munyaneza, voice (8)
Onye Ozuzu, voice (10), Igbo alphabet (10)
Rain, pouring (13), continuously pouring (14)
A. Martizen, poem (13)
Gira Dahnee, Florida version (15)
Angel Bat Dawid, Louisville recollections (15)
Leia, Angela, Xoco, Alyssa, Mina, Benjamin, Love choir, facts (16)