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Ism - Junius Paul (Album Review)

Updated: Nov 23, 2019

Released: 22 November 2019

Album Rating: 4.5/5

Live Potential: 4/5

Diversity in Songs: 4/5

Favourite Songs: ‘Baker’s Dozen’, ‘Spocky Chainsey Has Re-Emerged’, ‘Paris’.

Bassist Junius Paul is set to release his debut record, released via Chicago-born recording company International Anthem. Ism is a vivid and animated avant-garde adventure which lives up to International Anthem’s self-declared mission of producing boundary-defying music. The album crosses between free form jazz, groove-driven tunes and hip-hop-inspired fillers. The album is a wild journey which pulls you in many directions whilst simultaneously contorting your emotions.

Born in raised in the Chicago area, Junius Paul is best known for his work with International Anthem compatriot Makaya McCraven, having appeared on McCraven’s In The Moment, Highly Rare and 2018’s standout album Universal Beings. He is also known for his work with The Art Ensemble of Chicago, as well as having worked with the likes of The Fred Anderson Trio, Dee Dee Bridgewater and trumpeters Marquis Hill and Donald Byrd. Having worked with such renowned acts, we can agree with the label when they say that Junius’ debut is “well overdue”. Drawing upon his impressive career, the album features over a dozen instrumentalists including Vincent Davis, Justin Dillard, Corey Wilkes, Isaiah Spencer, Tomeka Reid, Marquis Hill, Irvin Pierce, Shanta Nurullah and Rajiv Halim.

Ism is the product of nine recording sessions, across a handful of live and studio locations in Chicago, and over three years of post-production with editor-and-chief Makaya McCraven helping guide the direction of the record. The combination of McCraven’s editorial prowess and International Anthem’s Scottie McNeice’s oversight helps to characterise and elevates the artistic undercurrents of the record.

Junius Paul - Credit: Andrea Falcone

Described as a spiritual mic check, Ism begins with the chaotic and formless ‘You Are Free to Choose’, immediately casting the listener into the precipice. The bold album opener, its creative energy harking back to his time at the elusive Velvet Lounge, shows Junius Paul is not here to fuck around. As we are guided through the eerie ‘Bowl Hit’ and downtempo ‘View From The Moon’, we reach the punchy ‘Baker’s Dozen’. ‘Baker’s Dozen’ funky feel is set by Paul’s melodic bass riffs and Isiah Spencer’s hip-hop rhythms, coloured by Rajiv Kalim’s saxophone interjections, whilst Jim Baker’s pixelated ARP synth playing evokes memories of 1990s dial-up. ‘Asé’, the lead single, follows on and showcases Paul’s fast and furious upright bass abilities.

Seeping with concentrated energy, ‘Spocky Chainsey Has Re-Emerged’ is one of the highpoints of the record – characterised by sass and style. This tune shares the spiritual energy of Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay and Straight Life, emanated by Corey Wilkes’ trumpet moans and Justin Dillard’s surging keys. With a few funky and atmospheric tunes in between, we reach ‘Paris’. Like the city, the song is smoky and cool. The scene begins with resonant bass plucks and Marquis Hill’s mysterious horn lines before transforming into a hip-hop inspired groove and then into a faster bop. Throughout, Paul’s bass is intense and steadfast, few bassists have the power with which he plays. ‘Paris’ is truly brilliant, a song which sends you into a deep trance – it’s no wonder that Paul wants this to be turned into a 12” DJ edit. Other memorable moments include ‘Sprouts’ with its headbanging rhythms and then the beautifully dark and sorrowful bowed strings in ‘Ma and Dad’, courtesy of Tomeka Reid’s cello.

With Ism, Junius Paul has created a rich, sophisticated and free-flowing debut record, a project in which he has unleashed his creative potential. Ism’s existentialist undertones is reflective of contemporary scenes as it contains moments of anger and discordance conveying uncertainty, political discord and global challenges. However, it is also an album which also contains moments of illumination and hope, which are clear through the brighter songs of the album. Truly, Ism is an album of our time.


Tracks 1, 8, 9, 10 & 16 recorded January 9th 2019 at Decade Studios, Old Town, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, Vincent Davis, Justin Dillard & Corey Wilkes.

Tracks 2, 3 & 4 recorded June 30th 2016 at Comfort Station, Logan Square, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, Isaiah Spencer, Jim Baker & Rajiv Halim.

Tracks 5, 6 & 7 recorded August 23rd 2016 at the Polish Triangle, Wicker Park, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, Vincent Davis, Justin Dillard & Corey Wilkes.

Track 11 recorded December 20th 2016 at The Hideout, Goose Island, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, Makaya McCraven & Marquis Hill.

Track 12 recorded April 2nd 2018 at Co-Prosperity Sphere, Bridgeport, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, Vincent Davis, Justin Dillard & Corey Wilkes.

Track 13 recorded July 26th 2016 at The Polish Triangle, Wicker Park, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, Shanta Nurullah, Isaiah Spencer, Scott Hesse, Irvin Pierce & Makaya McCraven.

Tracks 14 & 15 recorded June 2nd 2016 at Comfort Station, Logan Square, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, Tomeka Reid & Isaiah Spencer.

Track 17 recorded December 13th & 20th 2016 at The Hideout, Goose Island, Chicago, featuring Junius Paul, William Kirk, Xavier Breaker & Makaya McCraven.

Edited by: Makaya McCraven Sequenced by: Scott McNiece

You can purchase/listen to Ism here:

You can keep up-to-date with Junius Paul via the links below:


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