Jeremy Wilms’ Diamond People released January 20, 2014
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Brooklyn, NY – Whether playing alongside jazz legend Chico Hamilton or indie rockers TV on the Radio, collaborating with members of Sonic Youth or with Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto, laying down grooves on Broadway stages or in Brooklyn Afrobeat band Antibalas, multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Wilms has enjoyed a fruitful career playing other people’s music. Now, with DIAMOND PEOPLE, Wilms finally seizes the opportunity to reveal his own individual sound with a wide-ranging and vibrant set of original music.
Like the titular gem, Wilms is an artist of multiple facets, a jazz guitarist as well as a singer-songwriter, involved in both prog rock and electronica production. The music on DIAMOND PEOPLE reflects that diversity while staying in a recognizably ‘jazz’ arena, ranging from straightahead swing to angular modernity, electric funk grooves to prog complexity.
“This album represents what I’ve been working on and striving for on the sidelines of my career”, Wilms says. That career, he continues, has consisted of “a lot of playing what other people want to hear”. DIAMOND PEOPLE is all about not playing to the current trends. It’s going back to an older approach to making a record, just people playing live in one room.
The album title is an apt description of that dedication to spontaneous individuality. “People have become these weird commodities in the music industry”, Wilms says. “In a way, this record is a rebellion against that. As a working musician, I feel like if I’m going to be a commodity, I want to be a diamond. A diamond is a rare and precious thing, while so much music these days is disposable. In my own small way, I’m trying to create something that can stand the test of time”.
To achieve that goal, Wilms has assembled a band of other ‘DIAMOND PEOPLE’: drummers Tomas Fujiwara (Mary Halvorson, Amir ElSaffar) and Greg Gonzalez (Beyoncè, Cecil Taylor); bassist Danton Boller (Roy Hargrove, Robert Glasper); trumpeter Matt Hilgenberg (Chico O’Farrill, Antibalas); saxophonist Cochemea Gastelum (Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, The Roots); keyboardist and filmmaker (and cookie entrepeneur!) Steve Blanco; and percussionists Reinaldo De Jesus (Danilo Perez, Lauryn Hill) and Dylan Fusillo (Joe Lovano, Taj Mahal).
Wilms met many of these musicians during his five year-plus stint with the musical Fela!, beginning with its off-Broadway run and continuing through its much-heralded Broadway production, which was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning three. In addition to that show, Wilms earned his Afrobeat cred subbing with the popular Brooklyn band Antibalas for more than six years. That immersion in African music is reflected on the DIAMOND PEOPLE track Broken Things, a gentle ballad inspired by West African guitarists like Ali Farka Tourè and Afel Bocoum. Contrast that mood with the hypnotic groove of Answers, on which Wilms switches from guitar to Fender Rhodes, spotlighting his versatility (he leaves his main hired-gun axe, the bass, to Danton Boller for the entirety of the album). The album begins in an entirely different mode, with the angular, collision-course horn lines of Disjunct. The tune was born out of a series of classical piano pieces Wilms was writing entitled Interruptions, which referenced the fact that his busy schedule often necessitated setting each piece aside for months at a time, leading to strange, sometimes jarring juxtapositions. “The word ‘disjunct’ describes the feeling of how the artistic process was constantly interrupted by the fact of having to make a living as a musician in New York”, Wilms says. Clone Village is another variation of Wilms’ struggle against the conformity of the music industry, a straightahead tune complicated and distinguished by tricky, shifting meters. The darkly tinged Retraction bridges the approaches of Disjunct and Clone Village, playing with harmony in the slightly off-kilter conjunction of melody and chord changes. Driven by Fujiwara’s intense, roiling drums and Wilms’ serrated electric guitar tone, Blues for Kinah pays tribute to drummer Kinah Boto, an undersung Atlanta drummer who mentored Wilms during his formative years. “He’s one of the most amazing musicians and humble human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life”, Wilms says, “and he was and is a huge inspiration”. Alphaville, penned by Blanco, is named for Jean-Luc Godard’s post-modern sci-fi film and strips the band down to guitar, keyboards, and two drummers. The only piece not written by Wilms, its inclusion is a testament to the long collaboration between the guitarist and Blanco, which is documented on the 2008 duo CD Semblance. The album draws to a close with the moving Hymn, a simple but poignant tune that came to Wilms like a dream. “I basically woke up one morning and that whole song was written in my head”, he recalls. “This was at a time when things in my life weren’t so great, and this piece of music became an anthem for me to get through that period.”
A native of Miami, Florida, Wilms moved with his family to Atlanta at the age of twelve, where he began to study music and break into the local jazz scene. He studied classical guitar, composition and psychology at Georgia State University before moving to New York City in 1996. Since then he’s spent six months as the guitarist for jazz legend Chico Hamilton and performed in the late Butch Morris Orchestra. He has worked with independent rapper El-P and for more than a decade played, recorded and composed songs with Spanish pop chanteuse Christina Rosenvinge, during which he collaborated with Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Wilms is a founding member of the bands Chin Chin and King Mono and currently leads the prog rock band NOMOTO. He is also a gifted singer/songwriter, with an album in that vein in the works for 2014. Wilms has composed music for several soundtrack recordings, including the Sundance Channel series Iconoclasts, the CNN documentary Far From Home, and the PBS online educational series Math Club. # # #