In November 2020, Chicago multi-instrumentalist Ben LaMar Gay debuted his long-form composition Certain Reveries at a London Jazz Festival livestream show. The performance was no mere park-and-play: wearing a black hooded shawl that recalled the grim reaper, Gay played electronics, synths, and of course his cornet, and in collaboration with brilliant percussionist Tommaso Moretti, he guided audiences through haunting dreamscapes for more than an hour.
Almost two years after the original stream, Gay is releasing the audio from that remarkable live performance on local label International Anthem, organized into 11 tracks. The original Certain Reveries stream was patently a pandemic artwork, down to a short-film interlude shot inside Gay’s apartment. The audio version abstracts the performance somewhat, though its devastating context is always close at hand. Gay’s lamenting phrases in “Skin” sound like they’re coming from behind a curtain; in actuality, on that prevaccine occasion, he and Moretti wore masks because they were performing together in close quarters. Certain Reveries also prods at the boundary between real life and memory, so unnervingly blurred during the nadir of “shelter in place.” Gay reprises the first section of Certain Reveries (“You Ain’t Never Lied” on the album) at the end of the composition (“New Tongues Tell Old Fibs” on the album), repeating its title refrain and playing back distorted samples of his and Moretti’s earlier improvisations. But in comparison to the stunning, sobering 12-minute penultimate track, “Água Futurism” (which sounds as though Gay and Moretti have been building up to it the whole evening), “New Tongues Tell Old Fibs” is practically falling action. If you’re just listening to the album, you won’t be able to take in the entrancing sight of Gay twirling lights under his cloak like a ghoulish fire dancer. But in “Água Futurism” you can hear deliverance loud and clear in his baleful cornet solos and Moretti’s drumming, which are assertive at first before dropping to a delicate flutter. Death and life lock forearms not to grapple but rather for one more dance.
Ben LaMar Gay’s Certain Reveries is available on Bandcamp.