Open Arms to Open Us, the outstanding and adventurous new album from musical polymath Ben LaMar Gay, slipped under our radar when it came out last month but we now have it firmly stuck in our ears and hearts. One of the year’s standout records, Open Arms to Open Us is an impressive feat with disparate stylistic dimensions. On his new album, the tremendously talented and versatile composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and poet runs the gamut from blues, jazz and R&B to Tropicália, hip-hop and eletronica, and everything in between, often within the same track.
In adition to Tommaso Moretti on drums, Matthew Davis on tuba, and Rob Frye on woodwinds, Open Arms to Open Us saw Gay enlist a cast of stellar collaborators, including 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.
In an accompanying prologue written by him, Gay says the album “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. More than anything, I’d like my babies to always trust in rhythm. It’s the one trueness that travels great distances and constantly survives the crumbling of facades.”
“Open Arms to Open Us is full of rhythm or information that will assist my young folk in dealing with the repetition of things that aim to harm them or stunt their holistic progression. The 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. The music is for dancing, reflecting, celebrating, bellowing, bawling, stimulation, focus and deciphering messages from loved ones here and beyond. It was the space in between the sound of my great grandfather’s hammer that made me understand that, no matter what, We Gon Win.”
For a taste of the out-of-the-box sound and far flung influences at play in the album, here’s the three marvelous singles that preceded its release, ‘Sometimes I Forget How Summer Looks On You (feat. Ohmme)’, ‘Aunt Lola and the Quail’ and ‘Oh Great Be The Lake’.