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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Joshua Abrams – Magnetoception (Eremite, 2015) ****½

By Eric McDowell

In a recent Invisible Jukebox interview in The Wire, Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams speaks about “constructing an environment” through his music. “One is creating a space to immerse the listener in sound,” he explains, “and creating room for slowness, for a different rate of attention perhaps.” Magnetoception, Abrams’s third Natural Information Society album for Eremite, demonstrates this concept wonderfully.  

Fans of 2010’s Natural Information and 2012’s Represencing will find themselves in familiar territory here, marked most notably by Abrams’s guimbri (among his other instruments) but also by Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker’s electric guitars, Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium, and Ben Boye’s autoharp. (Hamid Drake, a new addition to this particular project, plays a variety of hand percussion as well as drum kit.) But as a double LP Magnetoception gives the group a new opportunity to stretch out, breathe, and craft an immersive sound environment.

The album opens with “By Way of Odessa,” a side-long piece whose meditative ambient patience, punctuated by Drake’s frame drum, focuses the listener’s attention not by grabbing it but by creating space for it. Eventually the guimbri picks up, before dying down again. The rise and fall of the track’s energy foreshadows the album’s larger structure, more an organic sinuous movement with multiple climaxes than a simple linear escalation.

One climax comes at the beginning of the third side with “Translucent.” The tune’s odd-meter ostinato, carried by the guitars and Abrams on acoustic bass, keeps us entranced but alert, as if we’re burrowing down towards the heart of something, yet not quite there. That heart might come soon enough with the title track. “Magnetoception” finds the album at its densest and perhaps most dramatic, a tightly woven sonic textile of jittery muted guitar, insistent guimbri, and tireless drumming. The group’s natural, protean interplay is in evidence here too, with Drake wrenching the breakneck 6/8 groove into a shuffle for a few glorious bars at one point. Elsewhere brief solo interludes like “Of Night” (Abrams on clarinet) and “Of Day” (autoharp) provide contrast and help contract the scope of the music before opening out again.

“The Ladder” brings things to a close with mid-tempo interlocking guimbri and tabla overlaid by shimmering autoharp and carefully measured guitar lines. This final track leaves us neither too high nor too low, but safely in the middle ground of the album’s dynamic energies. And if Abrams is as inspired by the Gnawa tradition of ritual healing as he is by their use of the guimbri, then “The Ladder” can be said to deliver us out of Magnetoception’s restorative environment better than we entered it.

Magnetoception is available in an attractive LP edition limited to 875 copies or as an iTunes download. Listen to samples on the Eremite website.   

Available from the Downtown Music Gallery.


Niels van Mil said...

Nice review. I'm really interested in this release since it came out, but the price tag scares me of to be honest ( I don't do Itunes). I don't think you can get the album for below €50/€60 here in Europe (shipping included), and I think that is a LOT of money for a new album (hell, I can buy 4/5 Clean Feed albums for that price).

Anonymous said...

Totally agree Niels. However, both the earlier JA albums on Eremite have been reissued on CD with additional material at a substantially more reasonable price, and made available through more mainstream channels. Heres hoping that happens in this instance as the music is well worth owning.

dobrodziej said...

Well, these JA albums are quite a phenomenon to me. I admit, that if not for the label and line-up, I wouldn't bother to wait for say 3rd track. I made it though! Now I think it could serve me well for entertaining guests who not necessarilly appreciate the other side of Eremite production. How come 4,5 stars at FREEJAZZ blog? Isn't it rather an impro-ambient kind of stuff? Oh, I won;t fight for the labelling. Whatever. Just, please, help me understand what is interesting in this, OK, pleasant music. I guess creating 'an immersive sound environment' shouldn't be enough, right?