Junius Paul Carries The Torch, Pushes Ahead


Junius Paul is among the 25 artists DownBeat thinks will help shape jazz in the decades to come.

(Photo: Fabrice Bourgelle)

Nearly six months into the pandemic, Chicago native Junius Paul packed up his stuff and moved out of his apartment, relocating to a house just outside the city. “I’ve got a nice backyard,” the bassist said by phone. “I’ve got a bonfire pit. I can host more people ... whenever that happens again.”

Paul, 38, has been a fixture on the Chicago scene, carrying the torch with the trailblazing, avant-garde Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians while also pushing boundaries with drummer Makaya McCraven.

But due to the pandemic, Paul’s touring came to an abrupt halt after he and McCraven returned from a series of gigs in Hawaii in late February.

Last November, International Anthem released Paul’s ambitious leader debut, Ism. The project took nearly four years to complete and features contributions from more than a dozen fellow travelers, including McCraven, cellist Tomeka Reid and trumpeter Marquis Hill. The hefty collection covers a lot of sonic ground. On “Baker’s Dozen,” spirited P-Funk keyboards orbit around a hard backbeat as saxophonist Rajiv Halim ties the whole affair together with erratic squawks. Elsewhere, the 20-minute “Spocky Chainsey Has Re-Emerged” evokes Miles Davis’ tight denim vibe of the early 1970s.

As he waits for the world to return to some level of stability, Paul is enjoying his extra space—every square foot a buffer from the crowded metropolis nearby.

“I’ll be grateful when things open up, but safety comes first. As much as we love to play and tour the world and just see people and feel audiences, health and safety are still our primary concern.” And in the meantime, he can unpack boxes. “I’ve been playing a lot of keyboard, which has been good. It’s important that I find ways to keep my spirits up, try to stay engaged. Music is everything to me.” DB

This story originally was published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.

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