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«Since Time Is Gravity»

The seventh album of Chicagoan bassist-guimbri player Joshua Abrams and his Natural Information Society (NIS) presents a musical vision that ties an expansive form of the minimalist-hypnotic-mystical traditions of West Africa, associated to the Gnawa people, or the Indian classical music, to the spiritual Afro-American free jazz. The 11-musician ensemble was recorded live to tape at Electrical Audio and The Graham Foundation in Chicago in May and August 2021.

NIS’ music always relied on repeated and cyclical, layers of rhythmic grooves, led by Abrams’ North African lute, the guimbri, and played in relaxed, slow motion. And now with Since Time Is Gravity it is clearer than ever that if time is gravity, it also allows us to carry more. If there is a mystical or elastic quality involved in the experience of time, both in direction and duration, this album may let you catch it here. Or as Abrams puts it: «Music has the power to reconfigure our sense of time and timing. Since we organize our lives around a fixed notion of time what becomes possible when we re-understand that construct?»

The eight pieces play with the interlocking, seductive grooves of Abrams, percussionists Mikel Patrick Avery and Hamid Drake, harpist Kara Bershad and harmonium player Lisa Alvarado (Abrams’ partner who also did the cover painting). The wind instruments choir – Chicago legend, veteran tenor sax player Ari Brown whose voice plays a central role in this album, alto sax players Nick Mazzarella and Mai Sugimoto, cornetists Josh Berman and Ben Lamar, and bass clarinetist Jason Stein – flesh out these mysterious-psychedelic, trance drones with collective soulful playing that suggests a perfect sense of moving stillness.

One of the pieces, «Stigmergy»,  translates Abrams’ musical vision into social activism and may capture best the spirit of Natural Information Society and Since Time Is Gravity. It borrows its title and concept from the Occupy movement’s Heather Marsh, who proposes a social system based on cooperative rather than competitive models, one in which ideas are freely contributed and developed as ideas rather than an individual’s property. This piece is rooted in the jazz tradition but Abrams alternates the familiar solos of the wind instruments with a collective, repeated motif in which each musician plays only a note or two of the motif.

Abrams stresses the notion that Natural Information Society is actually a social organism that embraces hypnotic anarchy, but only when all parts are in place, functioning systematically, evolving and expressing themselves, its nature and society, as a transformative organism, as Stuart Broomer observes in his insightful liner notes. Broomer also mentions George Lewis’ description of music as «a space for reflection on the human condition». Since Time Is Gravity offers 75 minutes of deep contemplation and life-affirming awareness.

Eyal Hareuveni

Joshua Abrams (b, guimbri), Lisa Alvarado (harmonium), Mikel Patrick Avery (dr), Josh Berman (cor), Kara Bershad (harp), Ari Brown (ts), Hamid Drake (conga, tabla, tar), Ben Lamar Gay (cor), Nick Mazzarella (as), Jason Stein (bcl), Mai Sugimoto (as, fl)

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