Bottle Tree Credit: Michael Handler

Ben Lamar Gay is one of the more mercurial musicians in town, appearing a bewildering variety of contexts. Of course, this is Chicago, where such versatility and curiosity is the norm—but even so, Gay is outside the norm. I know him primarily as a superb cornetist who works regularly with the likes of Ernest Dawkins, Mike Reed, and Jeff Parker, but he also makes weird trance-out sounds in El Is a Sound of Joy, and I’ve heard him play in several ad hoc configurations that touched (in various degrees) on noise, soul, drone, free improvisation, and less categorizable stuff. On Friday, International Anthem will release a self-titled cassette by another project he’s involved with: the trio Bottle Tree, which showcases his skills as a producer.

The focal point of Bottle Tree is A.M. Frison, who sings and writes the songs; he’s a Saint Louis native who’s worked under the name Coultrain and collaborated with futuristic soul-production crew Platinum Pied Pipers. He’s been artist in residence at Theaster Gates’s Stony Island Arts Bank for the past year, where the trio incubated its repertoire in regular sessions, developing a distinctively warped strain of cosmic R&B. Expat Italian drummer Tommaso Moretti rounds out the group, laying down organic grooves. But Gay provides the secret ingredient, his lush, keyboard-driven contributions beautifully cradling Frison’s Stevie Wonder-inspired vocals—they act as an anchor while giving the singer freedom to ad lib and push against the bar lines. The credits on the album are scant, but Gay played everything apart from drums: thick bass lines, kalimba loops, and various electronic and digital keyboard washes, chords, and patterns. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is one of the album’s true bangers, “Another Other.”

Today’s playlist:

Jasper String Quartet, Unbound (New Amsterdam/Sono Luminus)
Kees Hazevoet, Pleasure (Unheard Music Series)
Huntsville, Pond (Hubro)
Various artists, Uzelli Psychedelic Anadolu (Uzelli)
Festen, Festen (Clean Feed)