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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite Records, 2021) *****

By Anthony Simon

For weeks, this music has possessed me. The sixth recording from Natural Information Society, this album marks a series of firsts for the ensemble: the first to be recorded live before an audience, the first to comprise a single composition performed continuously for some 75 minutes, and the first to feature saxophonist Evan Parker. From the opening moments of the performance, Joshua Abrams plucking a spirited melody on the guimbri (a three-stringed north African lute), this music is unmistakably *felt* — it lands inside your body, and there’s the impulse to move, even dance. Before long, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums and Jason Stein on bass clarinet join to craft a gently visceral pulse. Soon, Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium fades in, shimmering, giving the musical movement a pleasantly vertiginous effect. Finally, Evan Parker’s soprano saxophone is heard in clear, long tones, issuing an exalted call that portends the coming ascent these musicians will make. Recorded live in July 2019 at Cafe OTO in London, this uninterrupted performance is divided into four tracks on the album.

While descension shares many traits of previous works of Natural Information Society, it’s noteworthy for being much more rapid and raucous. There are many moments during this performance that reach ecstatic heights—driven by an unrelenting pulse that Avery at times pushes with tempos invoking electronic house music, and fueled by Parker’s masterful salvo of whirling, looping lines. When the rapture is graciously quelled by Parker’s sustained and tranquil tones, there’s a clear call on the spirit of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Stein has equally inspired moments on bass clarinet, at times collaborating in polyrhythmic scaffolding with Alvardo, and other times intertwined with Parker in exhilaration, or himself embarking upon a passionate solo.

Natural Information Society is a band that accomplishes what Abrams terms “collectively building sonic environments” through focus, continuity, and repetition (2017 interview with Will Schube on Bandcamp). As the listener embarks upon the full duration of descension, there's the dawning realization that the driving beat never wavers, that melodic lines are given mantra-like repetition, and one becomes astounded at the endurance and focus demanded of these artists, which in turn makes not a small demand of the listener. There’s a compositional frame here whose simplicity invites freedom to be discovered through emergence and exquisite awareness, rather than through declaration or imposition.

Writing about a prior NIS album for Bomb Magazine in 2019, Ben Vida observes that “Practitioners and listeners of durational music alike know what it means to sit for an extended period with a sound or rhythm—how time works to recalibrate one’s ears and sense of progression. Once the expectation of event is broken, a new set of listening considerations emerge. Form evaporates and one is left to scan the sound, to play with perception and explore the granular. It is through duration that performance can morph into ceremony.”

While listening to this album—I've danced around the room, been dumbstruck by virtuosic soloing, become spiritually uplifted, fallen into a reverie, and felt relief when the band briefly landed on a simpler and more grounded sequence, stabilized by the steady guimbri of Abrams...and then, inevitably, even ceremoniously, the euphoric cycle began again. It’s been a deeply rewarding journey.


Captain Hate said...

Enthusiastic reviews that lucidly explain the reasons for the enthusiasm make me anxious to hear the music. I'm on it...

Tony Simon said...

Captain, hope you enjoy!

Martin Schray said...

Don't be afraid, Captain. It's a superb album.

Captain Hate said...

I'm on the second cut now and am loving it. The "danced around the room" comment is what sealed it. That EP remains open to playing with groups like this and The Necks is why he's an ongoing legend still burnishing his reputation. Glad to see Eremite still in existence too.

Tony Simon said...

Glad you dig it. I'm very much still getting acquainted with Mr. Parker's impressive works, and I'll definitely seek out his work with The Necks -- arigato!