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Natural Information Society: Since Time is Gravity


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Natural Information Society: Since Time is Gravity
The concept of trance is one of the oldest in the world. Many older music forms embraced trance for their rituals. One is the Gnawa musical tradition originating in Kano, Nigeria and Morocco, which uses double and triple notes repeated sometimes for hours to induce a religious state while the singer sings stories of spirits. It is played on a gimbri (aka sintir or hajhuj), a three stringed instrument featuring one short and two long goat gut strings over a log base and camel skin. Chicago multi-instrumentalist and Natural Information Society leader Joshua Abrams taps into the Gnawa tradition and plays the gimbri in much the way of the masters, sticking to two or three plucked and repeated notes that lay the foundation for a music that is trance inducing indeed.

Layered over it are the tablas and congas by Chicago jazz legend Hamid Drake, a harmonium, a harp, and drums. These instruments rarely alter course in any of the individual eight tracks on the double album and can keep up this state for up to eighteen minutes, though time feels irrelevant in these tracks. Was that twenty minutes, five minutes, or an hour? In the place of singers, Natural Information Society uses more traditional jazz instruments such as alto saxophones, a tenor saxophone played by elder statesman Ari Brown, the flute, two cornets, and a bass clarinet. There is influence coming from players like Pharoah Sanders and Randy Weston. What there is not is the usual amplified saxophone solo that would take this music into the ecstatic, "spiritual" realm. Abrams calls this music ecstatic minimalism, but, had the word not been already taken by electronic music, trance works just as well.

The individual songs do move and change between each other, usually around a rhythm that Abrams sets up with the gimbri. Opener "Moontide Chorus" does this especially well, taking the listener into the album on the back of that ancient instrument and allowing the others to color over it while the percussion and drums play in tandem to keep the constant rhythm going. This gets expanded in songs like "Murmuration," one of the high points on the album. As the longest track, it best gets at the sustaining power of the trance. It is both old beyond words and inherently new simultaneously.

One track that moves outside of this basic setup is "Stigmergy," which not only changes out the Gnawa for something closer to classical Indian but also adds some heat to the solos, especially on cornet and saxophone. A few dissonant notes fly by, it gets loud for a moment, but nothing moves too far away from the hypnotic experience, which continues here for over thirteen minutes. Few changes in rhythm to accentuate that ritualistic feeling does result in the album running a bit long. As good as it is, it does begin to wear a bit by the time the more experimental "Gravity," with a killer solo by Brown, shows up at the end. Still, this is music designed to transport, to support movement between worlds, to sing the song of different spirits. Come hear what it has to say.

Track Listing

Moontide Chorus, Is, Murmuration, Wane, Stigmergy, Immemorial, Wax, Gravity


Joshua Abrams
bass, acoustic
Nick Mazzarella
saxophone, alto
Mai Sugimoto
saxophone, alto
Jason Stein
clarinet, bass
Ari Brown
Ben LaMar Gay
Josh Berman
Lisa Alvarado

Album information

Title: Since Time is Gravity | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Eremite Records

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