Essential New Music: Mind Maintenance’s “Mind Maintenance”

 “Music,” Albert Ayler proclaimed, “is the healing force of the universe.” While it would be exceedingly species-centric to say that just because things have been rough for humans lately that the whole universe needs healing, it’s unlikely that the cosmos would decline restoration right around now. Times like these call for the kind of music that Mind Maintenance makes. 

Mind Maintenance is the latest manifestation of the partnership between Chad Taylor and Joshua Abrams. The two men have been playing together for more than a quarter century, performing side by side in the Exploding Star Orchestra, Sam Prekop’s band, Hoffman Estates and Abrams’ Natural Information Society. Both are gifted multi-instrumentalists who can easily accommodate the requirements of jazz, rock and a host of adjacent genres. 

But each brings just one instrument to Mind Maintenance. Taylor, who’s most widely known as a drummer, plays a mbira: an African thumb piano that consists of a series of metal tines attached to a wooden-sounding board. Held in both hands, it lends itself to the playing of interlocking patterns. Abrams, who’s most often recruited for his bass playing, sticks to the guembri: a three-stringed Moroccan lute that’s carved from a log and covered with camel hide. By picking the strings and slapping the surface, you can play grooves and melodies simultaneously. 

Since the two instruments originate from opposite ends of Africa, they share no repertoire. Freed from precedent, Taylor and Abrams have devised nine pieces derived from the voices of the instruments themselves. The mbira’s brittle, metallic timbres contrast dramatically with the guimbri’s low, bulky tones. But the sounds of each instrument decay at roughly the same rate, and each lends itself to playing patterns that combine rhythm and melody.

All nine of the tracks on Mind Maintenance’s self-titled debut have a rotating quality, as if the one musician’s parts are dancing around the other’s. As anyone who’s looked into a kaleidoscope knows, when you spend time watching patterns rotate within and around each other, it’s easy to fall into a trance. As one piece bleeds into the next, both time and a sense of this music being made by two instruments slip away, and the cumulative hypnotic effect takes over. If your mind is in need of a reboot, this music is at your service.

—Bill Meyer