Natural Information Society

Since Time Is Gravity

Eremite Records MTE-78/79 x2LP


Joshua Abrams bass, guimbri
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

Track Listing:

MTE-78 Side 'A'
1.Moontide Chorus
MTE-78 Side 'B'
MTE-79 Side 'C'
MTE-79 Side 'D'

recorded Chicago, Electrical Audio, 2021-08-24, Graham Foundation, 2021-05-18
engineers Greg Norman (Electrical), Cooper Crain (Graham Foundation)
producers Abrams & Michael Ehlers
cover painting Lisa Alvarado (Vibratory Cartography: Nepantla)

bandcamp CD quality download

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The next chapter of the Natural Information Society is here. Since Time Is Gravity, credited to Natural Information Society Community Ensemble with Ari Brown, presents a newly expanded manifestation of acclaimed composer & multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams nearly 15 year, 7 albums-&-counting mainest ensemble. Joining the core NIS of Abrams (guimbri & bass), Lisa Alvarado (harmonium) Mikel Patrick Avery (drums) & Jason Stein (bass clarinet) are Hamid Drake (conga, tabla, tar), Josh Berman & Ben Lamar Gay (cornets), Nick Mazzarella & Mai Sugimoto (alto saxophones & flute), Kara Bershad (harp) & Chicago living legend of the tenor saxophone Ari Brown. Recorded live to tape at Electrical Audio & The Graham Foundation, cover painting Vibratory Cartography: Nepantla, by Lisa Alvarado. 2023-04-14 release date. eremite edition pressed on premium audiophile-quality 120 gram vinyl at RTI from Kevin Gray / Cohearent Audio lacquers. Mastered by Helge Sten, Audio Virus, Oslo. First eremite edition of 1,799 copies. First 400 direct order LPs come with eremite’s signature retro-audiophile inner-sleeves, hand screen-printed by Alan Sherry, Siwa Studios, northern New Mexico. CD edition & EU x2LP edition available thru our EU partner, Aguirre records, Belgium.

liner notes 

Since first developing Natural Information Society in 2010, Joshua Abrams has been gradually expanding the group’s conceptual underpinnings, its musical references & the sheer number of the group’s members. Its music is, in a sense, an expansive form of minimalism, based in repeated & overlaid rhythmic patterns, ostinatos & modality. Its roots, its scale & its meaning become clearer in time. If time is gravity, it also allows us to carry more. Having begun as fundamentally a rhythm section with Abrams’ guimbri at its core, the version here can stretch to a tentet, including six horns.

Abrams has been expanding his minimalism gradually, but he has long understood a key to minimalism’s potential: the breadth of its roots in the late 1950s & early 1960s, ranging from the dissatisfaction of young European-stream composers with the limitations of serialism to the simultaneous dissatisfaction of jazz musicians with the dense harmonic vocabulary of bop & hard bop. The former began exploring rhythmic complexity & narrow tonal palates in place of harmonic abstraction (Steve Reich’s Drumming, Philip Glass’ Music with Changing Parts; perhaps above all Terry Riley’s In C & his late ‘60s all-night organ & loop concerts); the later reduced dense chord changes to scales (signally with Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, but rapidly expanding with John Coltrane’s vast project). In the 1950s the LP record opened the world with documentation of Asian & African musics, key influences on both minimalists & jazz musicians. If John Coltrane’s soprano saxophone suggested the keening shehnai of Bismillah Khan, the instrument was rapidly taken up by two key minimalists, LaMonte Young & Riley, similarly appreciative of its flexible intonation, the same thing that kept it out of big bands.

If the guimbri, the North African hide-covered lute that Abrams plays with NIS, involves a rich tradition of hypnotic healing music associated with the Gnawa people, Abrams’ music also touches on other musics as well —other depths, memories & healings, different drones, rhythms & modes. As the group expands on Since Time Is Gravity, he has made certain jazz traditions in the same stream more explicit as well. If there is a mystical & elastic quality involved in the experience of time, both in direction & duration, you will catch it here. The parts for the choir of winds expand on the roles of Abrams’ guimbri, Mikel Patrick Avery & Hamid Drake’s percussion & Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium: at times, the winds are almost looping in the tentet version, each hitting a repeating note in turn, at once drone & distinct inflection on temporal sequence. The brilliance of the work resides in Abrams’ compositions, the NIS’ intuitive execution & in Ari Brown’s singular embodiment of the great tenor saxophone tradition, including the oracular genius of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, & Yusef Lateef.

The three pieces by the expanded NIS featuring Brown —the opening “Moontide Chorus” & “Is” & the ultimate “Gravity”— have an immediate impact, & togther might be considered a kind of concerto for tenor saxophone. Here Brown presses almost indistinguishably from composed melody to improvised speech, getting so close to language that he might have a text. Everything here is a sign. Note the tap of the Rhythm Ace that links “Moontide Chorus” to “Is”, the attentive heart always present, even when signed by a machine. There’s a link here to the methodologies & meanings of dub music & the linear & vertical collage of beats, textures & tongues: treated with reverence, a sample of a beat-box can be as soulful, as hypnotic, as a mbira or a tamboura. If those pieces with Brown are heard as a suspended concerto, the three embrace & enfold the other works, like the sepals of a flower. That placement will also touch on the mysteries of our perception of time.

Particularly in “Is”, but elsewhere as well, a phenomenon of transcendence arises in which time appears to be tripartite, at once moving backwards & forwards & standing still. This is an act of technical brilliance certainly, but also an illumination of music’s ability to represent temporal consciousness through polymetrics. This particular listener has only heard it before in a few places, including the horn shouts & bowed basses of Coltrane’s Africa, in moments of Charles Mingus’ The Black Saint & the Sinner Lady, in certain pieces where tapes were literally running backwards, & earlier still in Dizzy Gillespie’s Cubana Be, Cubana Bop, in which the composer George Russell & conguero Chano Pozo found a music that spoke at once in the voices of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring & the vestigial rites, rhythms & songs of the Yoruba language & Santeria religion of inland Cuba.

In Joshua Abrams’ compositions & the realization of them by the NIS, in the time of one’s close listening & memory thereof, distinctions between the “natural” & the “social”, the “quotidian” & the “transcendent” are erased, suspended or perhaps irrelevant. Consider two of the ensemble pieces, one named for nature, the other social science. In “Murmuration” the repeated wind figures of flute & alto saxophone combine with the interlocking patterns of harp, guimbri & frame drum (tar) to create a perfect moving stillness, not an imitation but a witness to the miracle of the starlings’ astonishing collective art, a surfeit of beauty that might be the ultimate defense tactic.

“Stigmergy” takes its name & concept from the Occupy movement’s Heather Marsh, who proposes a social system based on a cooperative rather than competitive models, one in which ideas are freely contributed & developed as ideas rather than an individual’s property. In its form, Abrams’ “Stigmergy” is the closes thing to traditional jazz, a series of accompanied solos by each of the wind players. However, the composed accompaniment is a radically collectivist notion: a repeated rhythmic figure, call it ostinato or riff, in which the different winds each play only a note or two of the figure, a concept both more collectivist & individualistic in its conception than any typical unison figure. It suggests another of the underlying recognitions that propel the Natural Information Society, the group as social organism, the teleology of hypnotic anarchy, all parts in place, functioning systematically, evolving & expressing itself, its nature & society, as a transformative organism.

George Lewis has described music as “a space for reflection on the human condition”. This suggests that, rather than a “distraction”, at least some music might serve as a distraction from distraction. It’s a focus, a clarity, an awareness, an external invitation to interiority, as if music itself is a model for form & contemplation, an organism contemplating for us or as us. If that is a possibility, & I am sure I have heard such musics, than this music is among them. How many of our rhythms, melodies & harmonies (cultural, historical, biological, psychic) might such music carry, translate & transform in the particulate ecstasy of our own murmuration? Stuart Broomer, April 2022

mojo magazine #1 underground album 2023
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raven sings the blues 2023 favorites 

When an interviewer asked Joshua Abrams how he tends to start writing a new song, he demurred: “Our process is one of continuance.” The Chicago composer and bandleader’s music, through the conduit of his ever-expanding ensemble Natural Information Society, feels as if it exists in a state of perpetual evolution, just beyond the range of human perception. Performances can take on the air of a ritualistic summoning. When Abrams convenes his band, the first notes glint like light in the crack between our world, with its strict laws of temporal-spatial continuity, and the one in which the music has existed, ceaselessly unspooling, for centuries.
While there is nothing explicitly spiritual about Natural Information Society’s output, the group draws on practices from around the world that facilitate transcendent experiences: Gnawa from North Africa, Hindustani classical, ecstatic jazz. The music of these traditions is frequently longform  and often uses improvisation to expand upon a central scale or motif. Abrams threads together these sounds and structures, which have been reaffirmed and renewed by their tradition-bearers across hundreds of years, with the postmodern sensibilities of minimalist composition. The music’s timelessness is twofold: The techniques it employs to suspend time for the listener—mesmerizing repetition, nimble rhythmic interplay, buzzing drones—have unfathomably deep lineages themselves.
Natural Information Society’s latest album, Since Time Is Gravity, is a suite of vivid snapshots of eternity, a concept that should be oxymoronic but which feels completely natural in Abrams’ hands. He brings together players from across Chicago’s multifaceted improv community, including drummer and longtime collaborator Hamid Drake, multi-instrumentalist Ben LaMar Gay on cornet, saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, and elder statesman Ari Brown. Brown has played tenor sax alongside Coltrane sidemen McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, as well as AACM pioneers Malachi Thompson, Famoudou Don Moye, and Kahil El’Zabar; his improvisations on bookending pieces “Moontide Chorus,” “Is,” and “Gravity” are informed by that lineage while maintaining a deeply individualistic sensibility, and his modal melodies walk a fine line between mystical ambiguity and conversational familiarity. These players are all steeped in jazz, but they are also students of the global histories that led to its development in the early 20th century.
Abrams’ guimbri provides the rhythmic and tonal center for each composition, including two solo pieces for the instrument, “Wane” and “Wax.” The guimbri is a three-stringed bass lute played by the Gnawa people of Morocco that Abrams first heard on The Trance of Seven Colors, by Maleem Mahmoud Ghania and Pharoah Sanders, key influences on his own work. Compared to Steve Reich, who invoked African styles within a Western classical context while claiming much of the credit, Abrams is more attuned to the traditions that have inspired him—and to the nature of his own borrowing. “I wondered if it was right to take it up,” he once admitted of the guimbri, but Drake, who recorded with Ghania, encouraged him to continue. Using the instrument’s unique tone, a bulbous snap of gut strings against stretched hide and buzzing metallic rings, Abrams traces concentric circles around ostinato figures, forming the frame onto which the tapestry of drums, percussion, horns, and strings is hung.
Since Time Is Gravity features more players than any other NIS album —as many as 10, on some tracks. Rather than compete for space, the musicians patiently riff on interlocking patterns or assemble their parts into lavishly textured drones. “Immemorial” glows with restrained intensity, the group’s Indian influences filtered through the lens of Tony Conrad and Faust’s Outside the Dream Syndicate. Drake’s tabla takes center stage as Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium envelops the winds. Elsewhere, on “Is,” the ensemble swirls and swings around an implied drone, an amorphous mass of sound that bulges and recedes at odd intervals. It’s easy to get lost in the tangled web.
Abrams’ compositions specify certain patterns and modalities, melodies and moods, but much of the music remains undefined until the players assemble. Last year at Retreat at Currency Exchange, a Chicago coffee shop, NIS performed nearly all of Since Time Is Gravity, each piece spreading out according to the parameters set by the soloists, with horns leading several segues —an entirely different approach from the LP. Abrams’ music moves through time gracefully, adjusting to the demands of when and where it is performed, and who’s involved. The awe that his music channels lies in its grasp of mutability, tracking subtle changes in repeating patterns —whether from moment to moment or year to year.

Jonathan Williger, Pitchfork

Since Time Is Gravity is the seventh album by Natural Information Society. Led by guimbri player/bassist Joshua Abrams since 2010, NIS has a core lineup that includes Lisa Alvarado on harmonium, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums, and Jason Stein on bass clarinet. Guests are a big part of the band's recorded and performance histories, and this set is no different. Assisting the group this time are Chicago tenor sax legend Ari Brown, percussionist Hamid Drake, harpist Kara Bershad, alto saxophonists Mai Sugimoto and Nick Mazarella, and cornet players Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman. All 11 musicians are present on three of the album's tracks. Abrams' original music is deeply inspired by Gnawan healing music from Morocco, but almost by extension of his vast experience (Roots, Tortoise, Black Earth Ensemble, etc.), it readily embraces, borrows from, and intersects with other musics too. Often his cornucopia of other sounds has (deliberately) overshadowed jazz. That's not true here. Given the variety of reeds, winds, and brass here, the connection is explicit. "Moontide Chorus" is one of three jams that feature the entire band. Abrams plays a plucked circular pattern on guimbri for 30 seconds before Avery and Drake add tom-toms and other percussion. When the stacked horns enter, playing in a circular minor mode, they create a lyric backdrop for Brown, who answers their droning flow. Over nearly seven minutes, his resonant soloing adds depth and dimension to the horn section, and frames the rhythm section with modal lyricism. "Is" also features the entire ensemble. Slow, rolling hand percussion, circular guimbri, and harmonium set a languid pace as Brown and his fellow brass, reed, and wind players offer staggered, bell-like drones. Brown applies the modal blues in soloing across most of the jam. On the 18-minute "Murmuration" Bershad's harp twins the lead with the guimbri. However, she rarely deviates from the simple, repetitive melodic figure. The horns and harmonium join at regular intervals, as Abrams and Drake engage in rhythmic interplay, adding and subtracting instrumentation with every pass along with the droning vamp. "Stimergy," a 13-minute exercise, walks a wonky vanguard rhythmic line with stellar syncopation and conversation between Drake and Avery. The horns follow in eerie cadence, as flutes, saxes, and cornets entwine, taking turns soloing and engaging in complex harmonic dialogue. The entire 11-piece ensemble reenters on closer "Gravity", a short work that emerges from the band's creative m.o.: "patience, continuance, gradual change, focus on rhythm, rhythmic-centric, building from the rhythm...." The cornets, altos, and Mazzarella's tenor offer a circular chorus in dovetailing rounds as Brown delivers a deep blue solo with guttural bursts and squeals. Since Time Is Gravity returns NIS to their exploratory rhythm and overtone roots even as they make more room for jazz harmony and rhythmic sensibilities while highlighting the abundance of soloists among them.

Thom Jurek,

Over the course of more than a decade, Joshua Abrams and his collection of Chicago jazz, avant-garde and post-rock luminaries have made albums that don’t drastically change yet each have their own distinct terroir, creating and gradually perfecting an instantly identifiable core group sound that leaves plenty of room for innovation and experimentation. The Natural Information Society’s last album, 2021’s descension (out of our constrictions), was a live set with avant-garde saxophonist Evan Parker, and it bristled with the electricity of performance and Parker’s storied improvisational verve. For the follow-up, Abrams and the NIS have moved in the opposite direction, working with their largest ensemble yet, and emphasizing collective action over the flashy individual voice. That the band and their latest crop of guest musicians manage this shift while adhering to and expanding upon the signature sound they’ve been building up over the years should, at this point, come as no surprise.
That sound has always revolved around Abrams’ steady work on the guimbri, a three-stringed North African lute that has the authoritative timbre of a double bass but with a slightly more spry tone and a more limited field of action. Abrams, a longtime Chicago bassist who’s played with, among many others, The Sea and Cake’s Sam Prekop, the Chicago Underground Duo’s Chad Taylor and in the more minimalist/ambient ensemble Town and Country, lays down simple yet elegant patterns, usually four or five plucked notes, against which drummer Mikel Patrick Avery sets up a rhythmic crosscurrent. Harmonium from Lisa Alvarado and bass clarinet from Jason Stein handle what passes for melody, creating an undulating sonic field of sustained, bottom-heavy tones that alternately converges with and subducts into the rhythm cycles. The effect is intricate yet serene, contemplative yet forceful, straightforward yet subtly, almost subconsciously, ecstatic.
There are plenty of tracks here that take that inventive but stable formula and make it sound fresh: “Murmuration” floats around a plainspoken harp figure by Kara Bershad (mirrored by Abrams) and gains texture from the rattling frame drum of Hamid Drake, musicians who appeared on the epic 2021 NIS album Mandatory Reality
"Immemorial" has a knife-edged, Tony Conrad-esque drone that puts it in the same wheelhouse as the more electrically oriented Simultonality from 2017, though how that particular sound was accomplished, as no stringed instrument or synthesizer is listed on the credits, remains a mystery to this listener. There are also two shorter numbers, “Wax” and “Wane,” with Abrams on unaccompanied guimbri, that show his ability to imbue scale-based patterns with substantial emotional heft and melodic velocity.
But the real standouts on this latest effort involve Ari Brown, a 79-year-old tenor saxophonist with a long history in post-bop jazz, and probably the most traditional player —or at least the most rooted in the traditional soil of gospel, soul and R&B— NIS has worked with. In the trio of tracks on which he features –opener “Moontide Chorus,” “Is” and “Gravity-” Brown’s sensitive, bluesy tone and jumpy phrasing take the NIS in entirely new and fruitful directions. To back Brown up, Abrams has beefed up his usual ensemble with two cornet players, Josh Berman and Ben Lamar Gay, and alto sax from Nick Mazzarella, along with Mai Sugimoto on flute and harp from Bershad. The winds lay down a thick, obdurate layer of massed choral sound that surges and ebbs like an out-of-joint ocean against the cantering rhythm section. Over that, Brown dances and sings, spinning out punchy, expressive solos, doing his best to carve out a rhythmic pocket in the welter of contrasting and intersecting meters or lend the spellbound trance a modicum of swing. The result is something like La Monte Young leading the Count Basie Orchestra, a stunning mix of richly American avant-garde universes.
The three pieces with Brown have a clear through line, a unifying concern with surface tension and depth of field, with fleeting figure and ancient ground. But they also have their individual facets: “Moontide Chorus” is the jauntiest, while “Is” revels in the dissonance between the steady blare of the background winds, Brown’s tender squawks and a near-funky guimbri line from Abrams. “Gravity,” the closer, is the most adventurous, with a rolling, vaguely tropical rhythm, a swaying, snake-charming ostinato and Brown at his most gamely screechy. Brown is a member of Chicago’s immensely important Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and his presence connects the NIS’s music to a vital swath of 20th-century instrumental ideas and to a living tradition, linking Abrams’ minimalist- and avant-garde-informed project to the rich and varied sound worlds of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, George Lewis and Muhal Richard Abrams, among many others. At one point in its early years, free jazz was called “energy music” due to its frenetic pace, frenzied abandon and atomic volume; Joshua Abrams and the Natural Information Society work slowly, often quietly and with unrelenting patience – but the alternative energy they tap into might be more powerful than anything the Atomic Age gave us.

Reed Jackson, Spectrum Culture

Last month while back in Chicago I caught a set by Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society at Constellation. I hadn’t seen the group since leaving Chicago nearly five years ago, but I have continued to follow its evolving aesthetic, refined interactions, compositional growth, and collaborative heart during that time, particularly on the brilliant 2021 recording with Evan Parker Descension (Out Of Our Constrictions)
(Eremite). When it was released I was still writing the now canceled Complete Communion column for The Quietus, which refused to run any writing that discussed the British great due to his admittedly misguided postulations on Covid-19, and while I vehemently reject Parker’s thinking, his ongoing artistic genius shouldn’t be erased. I’m thrilled that I’ll get to witness that collaboration live this summer as part ofJazz em Agostoin Lisbon, Portugal.
Anyway, the gig I caught in Chicago—with the core quartet of Abrams on guimbri, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums, Lisa Alvarado on harmonium, and Jason Stein on bass clarinet—knocked me out. I always enjoyed NIS performances, but over the years I was away they’ve matured into an astonishing band with an imperturbable vision and elastic unity. That growth continues to shine on the band’s brilliant new album Since Time is Gravity, where the quartet is joined by a raft of Chicago talent that Abrams has called a “Community Ensemble.” That name rings true in multiple ways. The musicians are all crucial parts of Chicago’s tightly woven but disparate improvised music scene, yet there’s also a communal quality to the music, and the various horn players —to say nothing of long-time NIS adjunct Hamid Drake on percussion— serve an ensemble sound, often subsuming individual tones within a group aesthetic to provide a gorgeous, moving foundation for a given soloist, none more special than tenor saxophone veteran Ari Brown, the unofficial focus of the whole project. He unleashes stunning solos on the album’s opening and closing tracks, “Moontide Chorus” and “Gravity.”
Across four sides of music the grooves percolate coolly, Abrams’ twangy guimbri lines forging a pulsating alliance with the elegantly stripped down clomping of Avery, who has to rate as the preeminent minimalist in rhythmically-oriented improvised music. Abrams sketches out deceptively simple patterns, fleshed out by the chordal shadows of Alvardo. But nearly every track is slathered with horns that mass, slide in-and-out of sync, and gorgeously ripple, building on Alvardo’s long tones. The breath-driven choir includes cornetists Josh Berman and Ben LaMar Gay and reedists Nick Mazzarella and Mai Sugimoto. Abrams takes full advantage of the expanded line-up to elaborate and push forward the band’s previous engagement with classic minimalist methods, and the massed horns frequently evoke the kind of psychedelic harmonic effects that sparkle through music composed in just intonation, although as far as I know the tuning here is standard. This experience is present to powerful effect on “Immemorial,” where Drake’s table punctures a starkly austere long tone unison, threaded by some kind of quietly needling electronic tone I can’t suss out. It’s not listed in the credits, so, who knows, it could be some glorious psychoacoustic effect? On the other hand, Abrams switches to bass on this track, summoning the spirt of Henry Flynt, with resplendently grainy tones that seem to hold the horns within its spectral tuning.
Indeed, nothing is quite as it seems, as the group retains its strong jazz footing, particularly through the extended solos by the 79-year old Brown—a founding member of the Awakening, which made a couple of overlooked classics for the Black Jazz label in the early 1970s, before he toured extensively with Elvin Jones and became a bedrock of Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio with bassist Malachi Favors. Abrams has previously featured Brown’s excellent playing on the bassist’s 2020 quartet album Cloud Script (RogueArt), which I had the pleasure of writing liner notes for. He sounds as good as ever, a brilliant player who deserves a lot more recognition.
Here and there the formula is altered, such as the effective addition of harp arpeggios played by Kara Bershad on “Murmuration,” where Stein and Avery are absent and Mazzarella and Sugimoto (on alto sax and flute, respectively) shape silken, beautifully textured swells alongside Alvarado, all pushed along by Drake on tar —the Arabic frame drum. Here the sound is completely rooted in the ensemble, with subtle shifts in accent and phrasing offering an almost aural illusion a la the magical motion of airborne starlings, where the enchantment comes from the collective movement, not the action of any single bird. Abrams takes it solo on “Wane,” demonstrating the percussive snap of his instrument while tracing out galloping lines I could imagine Paul McCartney playing. “Stigmergy,” which you can hear below, embraces, marginally, a more jazz-like form, where a series of incisive improvisations spill out of a cycling form, red-hot with concise, excellent statements from various horn players, but the background is constantly altered, with each horn player forming a lapidary fabric with just one or two shifting tones, almost hocket-like in its methodology, while producing something more meditative and cosmic.
I’ve listened to the album at least a dozen times thus far, and I’m still coming to grips with it. Each new spin yields previously unnoticed details, and there are few gifts in music greater than that sort of expanding consciousness.

Peter Margasak, Nowhere Street

Aficionados of transcendental music often have to choose between spiritual jazz & minimalist drone for their perfect hit, but the records of Joshua Abrams and his Natural Information Society essentially unite the best of both worlds and throw in some Gnawan trance for good measure. As with the previous six NIS albums, Since Time Is Gravity is rooted in the north African three-string bass pulse of Abrams' guimbri, and the seesawing hum of Lisa Alvarado's harmonium. This time, though, the group is expanded to include a six-piece horn section and harpist, adding a modal big band dimension; think Coltrane's Africa/Brass. MVP is Chicago vet Ari Brown on tenor, swinging out of the rhythmic grid on “Is”. But it's “Stigmergy”, named after a concept of collective action, that best encapsulates the ecstatic NIS groupthink: one hypnotic soloist after another -Ben Lamar Gay, brilliant on cornet - drifting elegantly in and out of systems repetition.

John Mulvey, Mojo

Bassist and guimbri playerJoshua Abrams has been leading Natural Information Society since 2010. In that time, they’ve released six albums on Eremite and Autoimaginary, a 2015 collaboration with Bitchin Bajas, on Drag City. The core group includes Lisa Alvarado on harmonium, Mikel Patrick Averyon drums, and Jason Steinon bass clarinet, but various releases have included guests like saxophonists Nick Mazzarella and Evan Parker; cornet player Ben LaMar Gay; keyboardist Ben Boye; guitarists Emmett Kelly and Jeff Parker; flutist Nicole Mitchell; cellist Tomeka Reid; and drummers Frank Rosaly and Hamid Drake.
The Society’s output occupies a liminal position in the vast world of music. It has elements of jazz —when people take solos, nobody’s in any hurry to stop them or bring them back into line— but its endless cyclical grooves, built around the throbbing gut strings of the guimbri and metallic, rattling percussion, sound like North African Gnawa music played in slow motion. Electric guitars, hints of synthesizer, and carefully managed echo and reverb add dub and psychedelia to the mix.
The seventh Natural Information Society album, Since Time Is Gravity, features on three tracks (the first two, and the last) one of the largest iterations of the ensemble yet. Guests include Mai Sugimotoon alto sax and flute; Mazzarella on alto sax; Gay on cornet; Kara Bershad on harp; and Drake on conga, tabla, and tar(a hand-held frame drum). But the crucial extra factor is tenor saxophonist Ari Brown, a 79-year-old veteran of the Chicago jazz scene who’s played with McCoy Tyner, Lester Bowie, Anthony Braxton, and as a long-standing member of percussionist Kahil El’Zabar’sRitual Trio, in addition to making several albums as a leader. 
On “Moontide Chorus,” “Is,” and “Gravity,” the massed horns sway and groan like a chorus, as Brown takes the spotlight, stepping surefooted through an extended solo that’s suffused with the blues but also manifests the gravitas he’s earned over the course of his decades on the scene. Chicago peers like Fred Anderson and Von Freeman are conjured as he blows on, supported by the repeated mantra-like melodies from the others and the endless, droning guimbri/harmonium/percussion cycles beneath.
On the tracks without Brown, the group settles into a much more static, almost ambient flow, creating trance music that seems to hover in place like a cloud. If “Murmuration” has a lead instrument, it’s Bershad’s harp, but she barely seems to move away from the simple, repetitive melodic figure she starts with; the horns and harmonium rise up in a single swelling voice at regular intervals, as Abrams’s throbbing gimbri and Drake’s hand drum create a rhythm that seems to have been playing for a thousand years (18 minutes, in reality). “Stigmergy” drifts back into jazz territory, granting solo space to all the horns, with the cornets making the strongest impression. 
Despite having “Natural” in their name, the group’s not allergic to instruments or production touches requiring electricity. Several tracks employ dubby echo, there’s a primitive drum machine laying down metronomic time at several points, and a high-pitched synth provides squealing accents on “Immemorial,” as the ensemble drones and groans like a reimagining of the legendary 1973 prog-trance album Outside the Dream Syndicate, by violinist Tony Conrad and German art-rockers Faust."

Philip Freeman, bandcamp

This is one of those albums where you not only lose track of time, you lose all sense of the concept of time in general. Joshua Abrams’s ensemble gardens in the soil of Minimalism, and brings about a bloom of melodic expansiveness and rhythmic details. Meanwhile, a steady beat, a droning undercurrent, and a tight ball of focus drive each piece along, sweeping the listener away in its embrace.

Dave Sumner, The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: April 2023

There is something about the sound of Joshua Abrams' 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. 
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.

Stef Gijssels, Free Jazz Collective

The American ensemble Natural Information Society filter spiritual jazz and minimalism through a North African/ethnodelic sensibility to create trance music of exquisite detail and emotional heft. Led by guimbri playerJoshua Abrams, NIS constitute a revolving-door assemblage of musicians operating at exalted levels. Their records' artwork—created by Lisa Alvarado, who also generates sonorous drones on harmonium—serves as a visual analog for the band's hypnotic tapestries of colorful sound. As has been the case on all of NIS's albums, including the most recent one, Since Time Is Gravity, Abrams's guimbri generally leads the way without any showboating. Every instrument here—Hamid Drake's tablas, Ben Lamar Gay's cornet, Jason Stein's bass clarinet, Mikel Patrick Avery's drums, etc.—carries equal weight, as each lengthy piece undulates to the vanishing point. Because the guimbri (aka the sintir, a three-stringed, skin-covered bass-plucked lute often heard in Moroccan Gnawa music) is uncommon among Western musicians, it lends NIS a fresh timbral tint. The instrument exudes an earthy twang that hits you right in your root chakra.
The eight tracks on Since Time Is Gravity embrace mesmerizing repetition as a means toward building rigorously layered compositions that could work in arcane religious ceremonies and/or as soundtracks for tasks requiring intense focus... or maybe for tantric sex. Whether your needs be sacred or profane, NIS got you covered. With an average length of over nine minutes, these songs take on the aspect of mantras.
This is music for the patient and the mindful —which eliminates many potential listeners right away. However, if you boast a long attention span and a hunger for sublime mind expansion, standout tracks such as the 18-minute “Murmuration” and the 13-minute “Stigmergy” will launch you into higher states of consciousness and keep you suspended there for hours. “'Stigmergy' is an ensemble ostinato orbiting an Ace Tone Rhythm Ace [drum machine],” Abrams explains in the press notes, “refracted through Echoplex, dedicated to Arkestra pioneers Robert Barry and Ronnie Boykins.” If that doesn't set your mind ablaze, I feel bad for you.

Dave Segal, The Stranger, Seattle's Only Newspaper