With Natural Information Society, Joshua Abrams expands his sonic palette while remaining locked-in on modal trance | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

With Natural Information Society, Joshua Abrams expands his sonic palette while remaining locked-in on modal trance 

click to enlarge Natural Information Society

Natural Information Society

Mikel Avery

The power of Joshua Abrams’s Natural Information Society is in large measure derived from a singular sense of purpose: to lock in on a single chord and with subtle, kaleidoscopic modality cast a spell at the nexus of a hypnotic groove. That intent is carried forth on the Chicago band’s fourth and best album, Simultonality (Eremite), but this time they’ve pulled back from a general focus on North and East African traditional music to further refine their attack with generous dollops of Krautrock and classical minimalism. As usual, most of the pieces on the new record are built atop the twangy, cycling propulsion of the leader’s thrumming guimbri lines, the motor at the heart of Morrocan Gnawa music, which center the listener’s concentration, allowing him to bathe in the ensemble’s shifting timbres and grooves. On “Ophiuchus” the psychedelic, chromatic electro-harp strumming of Ben Boye casts a pulsating mood that Abrams and drummers Frank Rosaly and Mikel Avery reshape with a polyrhythmic groove; the sprawling canvas is also daubed with wandering harmonium figures played by Lisa Alvarado and electric guitarist Emmett Kelly. “St. Cloud” pushes into a more meditative space of gurgling arpeggios, while “Sideways Fall” borrows Jaki Liebezeit’s indelible break from Can’s brilliant “Vitamin C” as its driving force, the pattern split between Rosaly and Avery. The album concludes with “2128 1/2”—named for the address of the late Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge when it was on Indiana Avenue—with Abrams on double bass and guest saxophonist Ari Brown blowing coruscating tenor lines that channel the lung-scorched tone of Pharoah Sanders as Boye pounds out profound piano vamps a la Alice Coltrane. The piece both takes Abrams back to his roots and clears a wide-open plateau toward this band’s future explorations. Tonight the group plays two sets, the first with a core lineup featuring Abrams, Alvarado, Boye, Avery, and percussionist Hamid Drake, and a second enhanced by horn men Ben LaMar Gay, Nick Mazzarella, and Jason Stein.   v

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