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Friday, June 2, 2023

Natural Information Society - Since Time Is Gravity (Eremite, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

There is something about the sound of Joshua Abram's Natural Information Society that makes it immediately welcoming and infectious. Its voice resonates with deep musical roots, going back to ancient cultures and worlds, creating a communal joy of shared feelings and spiritual participation. It is also no mystery that we have reviewed several of the band's albums over the years, and that some of the albums made it to our end-of-year lists (in 2017, 2019). The whole series is also very recognisable and visually unified thanks to the beautiful artwork by Lisa Alvarado. 

Here are some other reviews of the band: 
- Decension (Out Of Our Constrictions) (2021)

Next to the leader on bass and guimbri, the band today consists of some of the best Chicagoan musicians: 

Lisa Alvarado: harmonium
Mikel Patrick Avery: drums
Josh Berman: cornet
Kara Bershad: harp
Ari Brown: tenor saxophone
Hamid Drake: conga, tabla, tar
Ben Lamar Gay: cornet
Nick Mazzarella: alto saxophone
Jason Stein: bass clarinet
Mai Sugimoto: alto saxophone, flute

All tracks have a strong core rhythm, usually very repetitive, riveting and uplifting, rolling forward like a relentless wave, enveloped by the warm layers of rhythm section and horns, over which the soloist - here with a key and stellar role for Ari Brown on sax - brings a lyrical incantation to crystalise the mood of the whole ensemble. Some would call the subgenre 'world jazz' because of the use of African instruments and rhythms, but that would narrow it too much into one specific category. Abram's efforts are much broader, less interested in a musical fusion than in finding a new musical language, one that exists in its own right, rather than being a museum or documentary of sounds. 

The communal sentiment is so strong that some pieces, such as the long "Murmuration" no longer need solos: the whole composition is a one complex and shifting piece on which instruments may come to the foreground and dissolve again in the overall sound but without actually soloing. The individuals completely fade into the total sound without actually disappearing. It's odd ... and magical.

Two tracks - "Wane" and Wax" - are more minimalistic in scope with only percussion and guimbri, providing a kind of break for the other high density compositions, whose relentless repetitions and full sound of the harmonium and horns give rise to a trance-like atmosphere, on the last track again brilliantly supportive of Ari Brown's sensitive tenor. The strangest thing about the album is that it suddenly stops, while you could have listened to it for a while longer. 

Like the other album's by the Natural Information Society, this one is a winner too. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Watch "Is": 


Anonymous said...

Sensational recording, it has hardly stopped playing since it arrived here last week - their best dare I say it.

Yes the world/global jazz label is definitely inappropriate I'd say it is psychedelic trance music.

Stuart Broomer said...

I'll begin by divulging that I wrote the liner note to Since Time Is Gravity, but that really doesn't affect my view of Joshua Abrams or NIS, about which I've written for the past decade. I had a chance to see the Community Orchestra version of NIS at last year's Guelph Festival, described in the paragraph from the festival review that appears below. It's hard to imagine an hour-long composition, Descension, that can make the top-ten list of Free Jazz Blog and inspire people from roughly age 8 to 80 (a cliche, of course, but close to the reality) to dance to it at a free public concert in a city square. I think of it as ecstatic trance music, essential and restorative:

"The other artists to appear twice were Chicago-based Natural Information Society (Community Ensemble with Ari Brown), a nine-member expansion of composer and guimbri player Joshua Abrams’ usual NIS group. With veteran tenor saxophonist Brown erupting through the compounding rhythmic figures of five other winds, Abrams’ ostinatos, drummer Mikel Patrick Avery’s polyrhythms and Lisa Alvarado’s keening harmonium, the band suggested a fusion of Terry Riley’s In C (Mali edition) and John Coltrane’s Africa, creating a sense of time itself multiplying and standing still. In a Friday-night concert at the Royal City Mission, they played the entirety of their forthcoming recording Since Time Is Gravity, then threw in a twenty-minute segment of a new work that sounded like kin to A Love Supreme. The next night in Market Square, they played a version of NIS’s most recent release, descension (Out of Our Constrictions), that, true to its name, lasted an hour and had a permutating crowd dancing in front of the bandstand throughout. It was a fine coincidence of radical creativity and spontaneous adaptation."
From "2022 Guelph Jazz Festival",