2019 CD release.
Ism opens audaciously with the spiritual mic-check “You Are Free To Choose,” a track that features Junius Paul alongside Vincent Davis (drums), Justin Dillard (piano), and Corey Wilkes (horns).
This is by no accident. In many ways, “You Are Free To Choose” captures the spirit of Junius Paul’s artistic roots. Corey, Justin, and Vincent were among the multigenerational cadre of Chicago musicians present when Junius chose to follow his own path of creative discovery at the storied Velvet Lounge on the South Side of the city back in October of 2002.
Though the origins of his craft go back to playing in church, his creative instrumental voice really developed during jam sessions at clubs like The Velvet alongside members of the AACM, or Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. It was iron sharpening iron, the most natural form of knowledge transfer. He explained Velvet’s vibe in 2018: “It’s like in Africa.... If you had this society of diviners or medicine people, or you know, sages… The Velvet stuff is not secret; but there are certain aspects of it… if you weren’t there, you weren’t there.” The Velvet Lounge closed in 2010.
“It was very much like church. I had some unbelievable spiritual experiences there. You can feel this thing inside of you. There were moments at the Velvet Lounge that were so magical that I’d get scared. I remember a night with Vincent Davis. It was like, oh my God. He can play with that intensity for that long. The Velvet Lounge was the first time I experienced anything like that. I didn’t think that people could do that. And it scared me. You think you’ve heard [some things]… and then you hear something that completely destroys anything that you thought you knew.”
Back in the sixties and seventies, Chess Records’s Ter-Mar Studios was just a few blocks away from where The Velvet sat beginning in 1983. Chess was where some of Junius’s idols (like guitarist Pete Cosey and producer Charles Stepney) recorded some of his favorite albums. He sees himself as a part of that lineage. “I come from that... It’s special to be a part of that magic.” Junius still drives back to the club’s former location. “Every time I pass there” he notes, “the memories flood back.”
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