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Natural Information Society/Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) Music Album Reviews

Natural Information Society/Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) Music Album Reviews
Joined by veteran saxophonist Evan Parker, Joshua Abrams’ exploratory jazz ensemble delves into a single piece that stretches to 75 minutes and seems to pass in no time at all.

Life on pandemic time tends to feel like an endless blur, and it might now also be the readiest example of what bassist and composer Joshua Abrams calls “mandatory reality.” “If our music’s political, it’s because it offers the possibility of slowing down,” the Natural Information Society leader once said. “We live in the age of attention and availability, and [our music] is offering a certain level of experience, and it operates in slightly different ways.” In the past year, however they may have attempted to fill the days, millions found themselves in the realm of experience described by the title of NIS’ 2019 album: Stuck in the same mandatory crawl of time.

But those who caught a NIS performance in the months leading up to 2020 witnessed the delectable possibility of Abrams and bandmates speeding back up. At live shows that summer and fall, the band took a new tack, playing an expansive 40-plus minute piece that revved up to twice the speed of Mandatory Reality. Even guests sitting in with the band, like drummer Jim White, appeared propelled along like a leaf in a fast-moving river. Stripped down to a lean quartet, guided by Abrams’ thrummed guimbri, a sound that had previously felt as steadfast and measured as a walking meditation now hovered at 142 BPM, more appropriate for clubgoers in Berlin. And—as Abrams sought a throughline between ancient Gnawa trance and 1980s Chicago house—it didn’t feel like too much of a stretch. “It’s the original 808, because it has a percussive skin mixed with a bass tone,” he has said of the guimbri. Though NIS is commonly labeled as jazz, its primary instruments of guimbri and harmonium stretch back centuries before the birth of that art form.

Spread across four sides of vinyl and now approaching 75 minutes, that single extended piece comprises the entirety of descension (Out of Our Constrictions). Recorded live at London’s Café Oto in summer 2019, the quartet of Abrams, harmonium player Lisa Alvarado, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, and drummer Mikel Patrick Avery are joined by British free jazz legend Evan Parker on soprano saxophone. Exploring the outer edges of the ecstatic as well as the physically exhausting, the four sides of descension push deeper, higher, and wider, using kinetic movement to interrogate stasis.

After an introductory figure on the guimbri from Abrams, the band quickly gets to it. Avery’s stickwork is astonishing throughout, maintaining that high BPM with clock-like precision. Though tireless as a drum machine, he somehow always slides around a steady 4/4, framing it yet never slotting into it. On previous NIS albums, Alvarado’s harmonium favored the instrument’s droney, slow-evolving aspects; watching her work its bellows now might cause your carpal tunnel to flare up. She chops her lines into 16th notes, making the thing hyperventilate rather than breathe deep.

Breath is a natural metaphor when considering Parker’s long, storied career in European free improvisation—an early album was titled The Topography of the Lungs. His circular breathing on descension is a dream pairing for NIS, his cascading solos as ardent, mesmerizing, and pattern-focused as his bandmates. He weaves around, roots under, then circles above them. Hearing him in conjunction with Stein evokes seemingly contradictory qualities: Is it skronking free jazz or early swing? A high-altitude dogfight or a highly attuned conversation, akin to John Coltrane’s soprano trading solos with Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet at the Village Vanguard a half-century prior?

It feels silly to roadmap, recap, much less discern the four parts of descension. Both journey and landscape, the piece lifts off and soars to maximum cruising altitude, where, even at top speed, it seems to stand completely still—and then, over an hour later, you’re on the other side. Saying it all sounds the same might seem dismissive, but one of the descension’s remarkable aspects is its ability to convince your ears and mind otherwise. It’s as transformative and banal as a transatlantic flight. Grumbling about it feels like bemoaning the number of trees in a forest, that the Sahara is just sand dunes. It’s utterly maddening, and to get lost within it feels like the past calendar year: undifferentiated, infinite, and delirious.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Natural Information Society/Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) Music Album Reviews Natural Information Society/Evan Parker - descension (Out of Our Constrictions) Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, April 26, 2021 Rating: 5

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