Joshua Abrams


Eremite Records MTE-58 LP


Abrams guimbri, organ, ms20, harps, bells, harmonium, mpc
Lisa Alvarado gong & harmonium (B1,4,5)
Mikel Avery drums (B1&2)
David Boykin tenor saxophone (A1&3)
Emmett Kelly electric & acoustic guitars (B1&4)
Nicole Mitchell flutes (B3)
Jeff Parker electric guitar (B5)
Tomeka Reid cello (B2)
Jason Stein bass clarinet (B3)
Chad Taylor gong & drums (A1&2)
Michael Zerang tambourine (B5)

Track Listing:

Side 'A'
1. San Anto
2. Represencing
3. Moon Hunger
Side 'B'
1. Sound Talisman
2. Sungazer
3. The Ba
4. Enter Mountain Amulet
5. Cloud Walking

recorded at home summer 2011 by JA
producers: Abrams & Michael Ehlers
painting: Lisa Alvarado

sound talisman

moon hunger

represencing is the second installment of the joshua abrams sound world introduced on his 2010 eremite album natural information. recorded at home in chicago summer of 2011, abrams again organizes small group statements around the resonant grooves of the north african ceremonial instrument the guimbri with a unique & broadly assimilative compositional voice. sources from traditional musics to minimalism, jazz to krautrock, animate represencing, but Abrams is always grounded in the solidity of true working musicianship & he proves himself an artist fluent not just in styles but traditions. abrams' guest musicians embrace his polyglot approach. goaded (the guimbri is partly constructed from animal-hide) by abrams to focus on a particular facet of their vocabularies, jeff parker & emmett kelly appear as finely contrasting rhythm guitarists, michael zerang gets virtuosic on a tambourine & david boykin devotes himself to altissimo long-tones & circular breathing. others perform more structural roles, such as jason stein's bass clarinet, or, as with nicole mitchell's diaphanous choir of flute parts, function as landscape. the moondog-influenced "sungazer" is an aria for tomeka reid's spirited cello. throughout the album gong rhythms, synthesizer "sub" bass, harmonium & organ return as unifying coloristic elements. abrams likens the overall experience to "entering a forest from different directions," & cites as inspirations the AACM, don cherry, arnold dreyblatt, hamza el din, popul vuh, pharaoh sanders, & sandy bull's duets with billy higgins.

any one of these pieces would play fantastically as all-night trance music but abrams opts instead to miniaturize his environments, teasing the open & 'endless' forms of the compositions to present poetic episodes that imply sonic vastness. something of an exception to this practice is the ten minute title track, a duo with drummer chad taylor that is a tour de force of two brilliant rhythm players improvising to the omega point. 

eremite is pleased to again offer new work by a musician we consider one of the most distinctive of his generation. represencing is presented in a heavyweight stoughton 'laserdisc' sleeve with an elaborate screen-printed repro of a lisa alvarado painting by alan sherry/siwa (who also screen-printed the dust sleeves & the record labels). mastered by michael king at reel recordings, vinyl cut at sterling by steve fallone & manufactured by RTI. edition of 550 copies, VINYL ONLY. 

in the two years following the release of natural information, abrams has toured north america & europe with a shifting line-up of musicians as 'the natural information society.' he scored the music for the award-winning film the interrupters & has appeared on albums by josh berman, mike reed, & jason stein. abrams is a member of hamid drake's bindu. natural information received enthusiastic notices in the chicago reader, downbeat, the new york times & wax poetics among others, made several best-of 2010 lists including dusted, foxy digitalis, pitchfork guest list & wfmu, & was selected as one of the fifty notable records of 2010 by the wire. see here for abrams pre-2010 biography.

pitchfork staff list top ten albums 2012
magnet magazine best of 2012 jazz/improv
baltimore city paper 2012 top ten experimental & avant-garde records 
ni kantu best of 2012 list
matador records matablog top fifteen records 2012
KDHX DJs top 10 albums 2012
stupid scientifical best vinyl albums 2012
reckless records staff best-of 2012
foxy digitalis best vinyl only release 2012
village voice pazznjop 2012   
downbeat 4 star review



Not many people can say they’ve played with ?uestlove and Axel Dörner. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the diversity of Josh Abrams’s endeavors, which also include Town & Country’s rustic chamber minimalism, grounding Prefuse 73’s jump-cut grooves, making collaged field recordings and electronics for Lucky Kitchen, backing Sam Prekop and Bonnie Prince Billy, investigating the Thelonious Monk and Jimmy Giuffre songbooks with bass clarinettist Jason Stein, and a stint in an early incarnation of The Roots. Represencing doesn’t sound like any of that. Not once does Abrams play acoustic bass. Instead he wields the guimbri, a three-string Moroccan lute, in order to once more mine the vein of Saharan psychedelia that he opened on his superb 2010 release Natural Information.

Abrams is certainly not the first Western musician to incorporate North African trance grooves into his music. Ornette Coleman jammed with the Master Musicians Of Jajouka on Dancing In Your Head, and a couple of Represencing’s longer tracks have the same hypnotic feel and spiraling progression as Sandy Bull’s collaborations with Billy Higgins. But Abrams is not content to replicate what others have already done; instead, assisted by a rotating cast of musicians drawn from Chicago’s jazz scene and Bonnie Prince Billy’s backing group, he merges Gnawa sensibilities with his own.

Some of those contributors sound quite different here than they do on their own. Tenor saxophonist David Boykin keeps his unruly energy in check on side one; his rippling phrases on “San Anto” are more akin to the brief, prodding interjections that Evan Parker uses to guide his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, but here they navigate a rain of gongs. And on “Moon Hunger”, his playing is woven with the pattering guimbri and some satisfyingly oozy sub bass to create a blanket of sound as textured and warm as a patchwork quilt. On the LP’s other side, cantering guimbri rhythms mesh immaculately with remorselessly seesawing string and woodwind figures to especially hypnotic effect; while early minimalists like Steve Reich and Philip Glass borrowed from the music of other cultures, it never breathed as easily as on Represencing.

Bill Meyer, The Wire

“Represencing” (Eremite), a new album of earthy intelligence from the bassist and composer Joshua Abrams, can be understood as another dispatch from Chicago’s improvised-music ecosystem: serious but seductive, invested in the mysterious power of the drone. As on “Natural Information,” from 2010, Mr. Abrams mostly plays the guimbri, a North African lute, along with harmonium, bells and other auxiliary instruments. And as with that previous album, “Represencing,” due out on Tuesday, will only be available on LP, the better to appreciate the warm dimensions of its sound. Side A features the drummer Chad Taylor and the saxophonist David Boykins, finding meandering purpose in static harmony. Side B has other regular partners of Mr. Abrams, including the guitarist Emmett Kelly, the flutist Nicole Mitchell, the bass clarinetist Jason Stein and the cellist Tomeka Reid. It’s music that hints at the ceremonial without losing its modern bearings.

Nate Chinen, The New York Times

Bassist Joshua Abrams is best known as a consummate sideman on the local jazz scene, where he’s been a steady presence for the last two decades. But he’s a proven versatilist, as evidenced by stints with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and even the Roots, with whom he plucked upright years before they became a fixture of late-night television. Abrams continues to diversify, making the leap into soundtrack work with The Interrupters and Bill Siegel’s in-progress The Trials of Muhammad Ali, which he’s currently scoring. For the last few years he’s also increasingly committed himself to the guimbri, an African lute.

Represencing, his second solo album to feature the instrument (following 2010’s Natural Information), revolves around Abrams’s droning meditations and brings aboard several improvisers with whom he’s established a rapport over the years. Tenor saxophonist David Boykin guides the first half of the new LP toward two dynamic extremes, contrasting the free, spiraling “San Anto” with the hushed and nuanced “Moon Hunger.” Abrams’s wife, Lisa Alvarado, pumps harmonium throughout side two, laying down a mystical backdrop for an array of guests including Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, who sidesteps his spidery trademark in favor of loose vamping on album-closer “Cloud Walking.”

An appearance at the Empty Bottle’s Adventures in Modern Music showcase is a prelude to a proper record-release party at the Hideout’s Immediate Sound Series, for which Boykin sits in. It’s an apt setting, though “Immediate” might be the wrong word to describe Abrams and the ever-shifting personnel in his Natural Information Society, whose entrancing grooves cast their spell slowly over time.

Areif Sless-Kitain, TimeOut Chicago

Magical mystical musical tour that fills the streets of Chicago with the sands of the Sahara. Abrams is the composer/centerpiece here and his giumbri playing is a steady hypnotic backbone for each track. The guimbri you may recognize from various “gnawa” releases that KFJC has dug over the years. It’s got that snappy string sound, thick vibrations, notes roll in circles…but attached to that chordate chordophone are all kinds of interesting limbs. Abrams brings in stellar Chi-fi players to give each track a unique flavor. “Sound Talisman” has a shimmer of Branca-esque guitar, “San Anto” ricochets the guimbri off Chad Taylor’s gongs…harmonium is a natural fit with the guimbri, hovering like the heat on tracks like “Enter Mountain Amulet” (where it is played by Lisa Alvarado who also contributed the cover art!). “The Ba” may be the Egyptian birdlike soul, but here it delivers the most jazz qua jazz vibe, but this is an outstanding release that defies easy categorization. Psych rock fans should enjoy, alongside trance sans synth beats, jazz-bos to weirdos, everybody get on board. We’ve missed the last three Eremite releases, including another one from Joshua and some Sultan-ic celebrations, we need to fix that. Pronto!

Thurston Hunger, KFJC FM

On the second album  (an LP-only release) by his Natural Information Society, Joshua Abrams, one of Chicago’s most broad-minded players, continues forging his own take on ritual music, much of it built around a single chord and inspired by trance music from around Africa. This time around Abrams doesn’t use his main instrument—the bass—at all, instead crafting deep lines using the dry-toned, three-string Moroccan guimbri, which can’t help but give the results a taste of Gnawan music. But his savvy choice in collaborators, varied rhythms, and effectively lean arrangements leave little doubt that on Represencing he’s carved out his own sonic world.

For “San Anto” Abrams enlisted the iconoclastic saxophonist David Boykin to unfurl tightly-coiled tendrils of craggy free jazz, while on “Moon Hunger” the reedist served up tender, shimmering long tones across dissipated harmonium washes to create an entirely different mood. Across both sides of the record, though, the grooves are always hypnotic and circular, laying a warm, mesmerizing foundation for subtle melodic and textural exploration. There a touch of psychedelic rock in the chiming guitar patterns Emmett Kelly plays on “Sound Talisman,” a kind of post-Braxton complexity to the jagged patterns of massed winds (courtesy of Nicole Mitchell and Jason Stein) on “The Ba,” and a touch of hydroplaning funk in the licks of guitarist Jeff Parker on the appropriately titled “Cloud Walking.” It’s a terrific collection that stands easily on its own, but it’s all the more stunning that Abrams is able to borrow from various far-flung musical cultures without ever infringing upon any of them.

Peter Margasak, Downbeat

A mainstay of the Chicago music scene for more than a decade with recorded appearances alongside such figures as Nicole Mitchell, Jason Stein, Rob Mazurek, and the minimal chamber group Town & Country, it remained to be seen what bassist/string multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams would do when presented with the opportunity to direct an album. The result in 2010 was Natural Information, a unique record that explored ethnographically inspired improvisation with a psychedelic undertow, shot through with a degree of minimalism not often heard in modern jazz. While Natural Information — which also featured such luminaries as drummers Nori Tanaka and Frank Rosaly; vibraphonist Jason Adasciewicz; and guitarist Emmett Kelley — was a bit toothy, Represencing smooths the concept over into a whole that is both atmospheric and arresting. In addition to occasional organ, loops, and percussion, Abrams mostly sticks to the guimbri, a Gnawan bass lute. The ensemble is fleshed out by luminaries of Chicago creative music, including Kelly, Mitchell, Stein, tenorman David Boykin, guitarist Jeff Parker, cellist Tomeka Reid, and percussionists Chad Taylor (now in NYC), Michael Zerang, and Mikel Avery. The eight pieces are all from Abrams’ pen and feature small-group combinations from the above orchestra.

Drawing from folk and classical music from West and North Africa and Southeast/South Asia, as well as modern jazz, psych-rock, and contemporary chamber music, Abrams aligns himself with musician-collagists like Don Cherry, Bengt Berger, William Parker, Sun Ra, and Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Represencing is not about specific representation or reference, instead conjuring vibrations of personalized otherness. It is music built through traveling, listening, and collaborating, which isn’t to say that Abrams and company are necessarily taking music from a certain locale and grafting it onto another. Rather, it is work of open minds and open hearts, drawing from collective experience.

For example, the quartet piece “San Anto” opens the first side, arranged for guimbri (plucked and deeply resonant), organ, gong, and tenor saxophone. Invocational and trance-like, Abrams and Taylor present a minimalist framework of drone and shifting vamps over which Boykin’s flinty tenor flourishes expound neither free jazz nor art-raga. Sans percussion, the closing spectral plateau of “Moon Hunger” (a duet for Boykin and Abrams) is reminiscent of Terje Rypdal and Jan Garbarek’s bowed guitar, reed, and reverb work. The title tune is a lengthy duet for guimbri and drum set, Chad Taylor recalling Billy Higgins in his light, effervescent, and swinging cymbal and snare attack, as Abrams bounces and wiggles with funky depth. Where Sandy Bull trod with country ragas, Abrams has a particulate earthiness that, while clearly oriented toward bass frequencies, is incredibly jovial and subtly complex.

“Sound Talisman” is a crisper variant on the psychedelic rock elements of Natural Information, though recast into a holding pattern with inconspicuous tonal flourishes. Emmett Kelly’s electric guitar provides a gritty drone against a pliant guimbri vamp and the steady, bent metronome clatter of gong and cymbals. With hand-heel taps on the bass lute’s body serving as auxiliary percussion, cellist Tomeka Reid is a keening link between classicism and the blues on “Sungazer,” one of Represencing’s more self-contained pieces, evoking the clean lines of altoist Gary Bartz with powerful and breathy saxophone-like phrases. “Cloud Walking” combines Jeff Parker’s subdued blues-rock shuffle with a palette of guimbri, harmonium (courtesy Lisa Alvarado, also the LP cover artist), and tambourine, and at times it is difficult to discern whether the ensemble will turn down an alley in North Africa or in San Francisco.

Curiously, there is a seeming division between linking atmospheric sketches and tune-like fragments, with the second side’s shorter compositions nodding in the direction of snapshots that could be extended ad infinitum if only the tapes were kept rolling. In a sense, I wish that some of these pieces were a bit longer, but the fact that “Sound Talisman” and “Enter Mountain Amulet” seem to appear and disappear in medias res lends them a bit of extra mystery. While the music itself is often face-forward and direct (even as it might be colored in a sort of aural wash), the way the LP is programmed in a Saturn-like cut-and-paste fashion allows Represencing to retain a fair amount of quirkiness. It’s somewhat rare in an age of overstuffed albums to actually wish for more, but I’m convinced that Abrams has a double-album in him. Nevertheless, what we’re presented with is a fascinating and evocative set of transient contemporary improvisation that renders boundaries of time, place, and subculture only obliquely relevant.

Clifford Allen, Tinymixtapes