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Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society - Simultonality Rating: 3-5 out of 5 “Simultonality” continues to find Abrams creating an increasingly individual music that binds disparate musical elements together in pursuit of a common purpose.

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society

“Simultonality”

(tak:til Records)

Born in Philadelphia but now based in Chicago Joshua Abrams is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who specialises on the three stringed North African bass lute or guimbri, a ceremonial instrument of the Gnawa people of Saharan Africa.

Originally a double bass player Abrams first made his name on the jazz and experimental music scene in Chicago where he played with drummer Hamid Drake and saxophonist Matana Roberts among others.

For several years Abrams has led Natural Information Society, a floating group of musicians who combine the sounds of North Africa with elements of jazz, the minimalism of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass and vintage krautrock. It’s an exotic mix that has been documented over the course of four previous albums, “Natural Information” (2010), “Represencing” (2012) and “Automaginary” and “Magnetoception” (both 2015). “Automaginary” represented a collaboration with fellow Chicago band “Bitchin’ Bajas.

Drake has been a regular member of NIS but is absent from “Simultonality”. Nevertheless many of the musicians who have been part of the project since its inception do appear. For “Simultonality” Natural Information Society line up as follows;

Joshua Abrams – guimbri, bass, small harp, bells

Lisa Alvarado – harmonium, Leslie, percussion

Ben Boye – chromatic electric autoharp, piano, Wurlitzer

Ari Brown – tenor saxophone

Emmett Kelly – electric guitar

Mikel Avery – drums, percussion

Frank Rosaly – drums, percussion, resonator bells

With NIS Abrams has always preferred to work with two drummers and on this recording Avery can be heard in the left stereo channel and Rosaly in the right. Their percussive sounds are augmented by the metallic shaker sound of the rattle attached to Abrams’ guimbri.

“Simultonality” isn’t a jazz album per se despite Abrams’ roots in that scene. The leader has declared the album as being about “pure motion” and it’s different again to the music of its immediate predecessor “Magnetoception”, an album that I haven’t heard but which has been described as “beautifully spacious and unhurried”.  Abrams himself merely says “the last album was slow” and leaves it at that.

Given its roots in Gnawa ceremonial music and with the amount of percussive hardware in evidence it comes as no surprise to find that the music on “Simultonality” is highly rhythmic. It’s also dense and intense and tightly knit with opener “Maroon Dune” featuring Alvarado’s harmonium swirling around the interlocking rhythmic patterns generated by Abrams, Avery and Rosaly. “Simultonality” consists of only five pieces, some of them being of considerable length. In Gnawa culture the guimbri has been used to provide the pulse in trance ceremonies and Abrams’ relentless, implacable groove performs that function here as the other instruments coalesce around it.

“Ophiucus” introduces a more obvious minimalist influence which gives the music a spacier feel that ties in with the acknowledged krautrock influences. Kelly’s guitar fulfils a more prominent role among the layered keyboards and the insistent rhythms. It’s denser and more multi-faceted than the opener and there’s the sense that the members of NIS are operating like a single sonic organism to work towards a common musical goal, a process that the press release compares with bees in a hive. There are no soloists as such, but everybody is deeply involved.

Following the intensity of the first two pieces the gentle “St. Cloud” represents an oasis of calm with its atmospheric kalimba like sounds augmented by the quiet rustling of bells and the subtle use of keyboard textures.

The hypnotic grooves are back with a vengeance on the twelve minute “Sideways Fall” which opens side two of the vinyl version of the album. Here the rhythm is adapted from Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit’s break in that band’s tune “Vitamin C” with Avery and Rosaly dividing the beat into separate parts at Abram’s request.  Meanwhile Hamid Drake claims that the rhythm was first popularised by Jabo Starks and Clyde Stubblefield of James Brown’s band the J.B.s.
In any event it’s an absorbing journey with its compulsive grooves, deeply layered textures and snatches of swirling, minimalist inspired melody. It’s the most hypnotic piece on the album, the relentless grooves evoking memories of not only Liebezeit and Neu’s Klaus Dinger but also the rhythms of contemporary electronic dance music.

The closing “21281/2 South Indiana” finds Abrams switching back to double bass and the music adopting more of a jazz feel with a freely structured introduction. The introduction of Brown’s tenor sax steers the music even more firmly in a jazz direction with the saxophonist contributing the only genuine ‘solo’ of the album. The music is reminiscent of the ‘spiritual jazz’ of John and Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders.
The song title harks back to Abrams’ time as house bassist at Fred Anderson’s Chicago venue the Velvet Lounge on South Indiana Avenue. Anderson would often play the music of Alice Coltrane between sets and at the end of the evening and this performance represents a homage to those times.
Interestingly Abrams regards the music of NIS as something of a spiritual journey and cites the bassist and composer William Parker as a significant inspiration for the project.

“Simultonality” continues to find Abrams creating an increasingly individual music that binds disparate musical elements together in pursuit of a common purpose. The closing track is likely to represent a highlight for jazz listeners. Elsewhere those of that persuasion, like myself, may find the music a little bit too repetitive and lacking in the harmonic invention and stylistic and dynamic variety of the best contemporary jazz.

Nevertheless Abrams has carved out a unique niche for himself and has surrounded himself with some excellent musicians as he pursues his artistic and philosophical vision. One would imagine that an NIS live performance would be a totally immersive experience and perhaps the best way to enjoy the music of this most singular of bands. The album cover image was painted by Alvarado, who also contributes the large format paintings that are part of the group’s live shows, thus making their performances genuine audio-visual events. 

On June 9th 2017 Natural Information Society will launch “Simultonality” with a performance at the Constellation venue in Chicago. Visit http://www.naturalinformationsociety.com/NEWS for further details. 


 

Simultonality

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Simultonality

“Simultonality” continues to find Abrams creating an increasingly individual music that binds disparate musical elements together in pursuit of a common purpose.

Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society

“Simultonality”

(tak:til Records)

Born in Philadelphia but now based in Chicago Joshua Abrams is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who specialises on the three stringed North African bass lute or guimbri, a ceremonial instrument of the Gnawa people of Saharan Africa.

Originally a double bass player Abrams first made his name on the jazz and experimental music scene in Chicago where he played with drummer Hamid Drake and saxophonist Matana Roberts among others.

For several years Abrams has led Natural Information Society, a floating group of musicians who combine the sounds of North Africa with elements of jazz, the minimalism of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass and vintage krautrock. It’s an exotic mix that has been documented over the course of four previous albums, “Natural Information” (2010), “Represencing” (2012) and “Automaginary” and “Magnetoception” (both 2015). “Automaginary” represented a collaboration with fellow Chicago band “Bitchin’ Bajas.

Drake has been a regular member of NIS but is absent from “Simultonality”. Nevertheless many of the musicians who have been part of the project since its inception do appear. For “Simultonality” Natural Information Society line up as follows;

Joshua Abrams – guimbri, bass, small harp, bells

Lisa Alvarado – harmonium, Leslie, percussion

Ben Boye – chromatic electric autoharp, piano, Wurlitzer

Ari Brown – tenor saxophone

Emmett Kelly – electric guitar

Mikel Avery – drums, percussion

Frank Rosaly – drums, percussion, resonator bells

With NIS Abrams has always preferred to work with two drummers and on this recording Avery can be heard in the left stereo channel and Rosaly in the right. Their percussive sounds are augmented by the metallic shaker sound of the rattle attached to Abrams’ guimbri.

“Simultonality” isn’t a jazz album per se despite Abrams’ roots in that scene. The leader has declared the album as being about “pure motion” and it’s different again to the music of its immediate predecessor “Magnetoception”, an album that I haven’t heard but which has been described as “beautifully spacious and unhurried”.  Abrams himself merely says “the last album was slow” and leaves it at that.

Given its roots in Gnawa ceremonial music and with the amount of percussive hardware in evidence it comes as no surprise to find that the music on “Simultonality” is highly rhythmic. It’s also dense and intense and tightly knit with opener “Maroon Dune” featuring Alvarado’s harmonium swirling around the interlocking rhythmic patterns generated by Abrams, Avery and Rosaly. “Simultonality” consists of only five pieces, some of them being of considerable length. In Gnawa culture the guimbri has been used to provide the pulse in trance ceremonies and Abrams’ relentless, implacable groove performs that function here as the other instruments coalesce around it.

“Ophiucus” introduces a more obvious minimalist influence which gives the music a spacier feel that ties in with the acknowledged krautrock influences. Kelly’s guitar fulfils a more prominent role among the layered keyboards and the insistent rhythms. It’s denser and more multi-faceted than the opener and there’s the sense that the members of NIS are operating like a single sonic organism to work towards a common musical goal, a process that the press release compares with bees in a hive. There are no soloists as such, but everybody is deeply involved.

Following the intensity of the first two pieces the gentle “St. Cloud” represents an oasis of calm with its atmospheric kalimba like sounds augmented by the quiet rustling of bells and the subtle use of keyboard textures.

The hypnotic grooves are back with a vengeance on the twelve minute “Sideways Fall” which opens side two of the vinyl version of the album. Here the rhythm is adapted from Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit’s break in that band’s tune “Vitamin C” with Avery and Rosaly dividing the beat into separate parts at Abram’s request.  Meanwhile Hamid Drake claims that the rhythm was first popularised by Jabo Starks and Clyde Stubblefield of James Brown’s band the J.B.s.
In any event it’s an absorbing journey with its compulsive grooves, deeply layered textures and snatches of swirling, minimalist inspired melody. It’s the most hypnotic piece on the album, the relentless grooves evoking memories of not only Liebezeit and Neu’s Klaus Dinger but also the rhythms of contemporary electronic dance music.

The closing “21281/2 South Indiana” finds Abrams switching back to double bass and the music adopting more of a jazz feel with a freely structured introduction. The introduction of Brown’s tenor sax steers the music even more firmly in a jazz direction with the saxophonist contributing the only genuine ‘solo’ of the album. The music is reminiscent of the ‘spiritual jazz’ of John and Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders.
The song title harks back to Abrams’ time as house bassist at Fred Anderson’s Chicago venue the Velvet Lounge on South Indiana Avenue. Anderson would often play the music of Alice Coltrane between sets and at the end of the evening and this performance represents a homage to those times.
Interestingly Abrams regards the music of NIS as something of a spiritual journey and cites the bassist and composer William Parker as a significant inspiration for the project.

“Simultonality” continues to find Abrams creating an increasingly individual music that binds disparate musical elements together in pursuit of a common purpose. The closing track is likely to represent a highlight for jazz listeners. Elsewhere those of that persuasion, like myself, may find the music a little bit too repetitive and lacking in the harmonic invention and stylistic and dynamic variety of the best contemporary jazz.

Nevertheless Abrams has carved out a unique niche for himself and has surrounded himself with some excellent musicians as he pursues his artistic and philosophical vision. One would imagine that an NIS live performance would be a totally immersive experience and perhaps the best way to enjoy the music of this most singular of bands. The album cover image was painted by Alvarado, who also contributes the large format paintings that are part of the group’s live shows, thus making their performances genuine audio-visual events. 

On June 9th 2017 Natural Information Society will launch “Simultonality” with a performance at the Constellation venue in Chicago. Visit http://www.naturalinformationsociety.com/NEWS for further details. 


 


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