Multi-instrumental wunderkind Joshua Abrams is both the heart and heartbeat of the Chicago jazz and indie scenes. The deep-thinking composer and improviser has blazed an all-embracing trail alongside everyone from Fred Anderson and Roscoe Mitchell to the Roots and alt-folk singer/songwriter Will Oldham. Abrams’ unique synthesis of styles is manifest in Natural Information Society, the collective he formed in 2010; his instrument of choice in the group is not his usual bass but guimbri, a three-string Moroccan lute. Along with a rotating cast of mostly Chicago-centric musicians that has included Hamid Drake, Jeff Parker, Ben LaMar Gay, and Chad Taylor at one point or another, Abrams creates blissed-out jams, blending elements of psychedelia, post-rock, West African music, and free jazz.
The group’s sixth album, descension (Out of Our Constrictions), was recorded live in London and finds Abrams, bass clarinetist Jason Stein, harmonium player Lisa Alvarado, and drummer Mikel Patrick Avery joining forces with British free-improv giant Evan Parker in an epic meeting of the minds. This single 75-minute extended composition, divided into four sections, is nothing short of pure improvisatory magic.
Natural Information Society has been caught on tape in collaborative mode before, most notably on 2015’s excellent Autoimaginary, but descension (Out of Our Constrictions) is on an entirely different plane. “You could call it their party album,” reads the press sheet, and is it ever: celebratory, body-moving music rife with forward momentum. Channeling the righteous uplift of Coltrane’s touchstone “Spiritual,” NIS and Parker dance, dart, and leap with melodious fervor. Abrams, Alvarado, and Avery sculpt elastic rhythms and weave groove-heavy tapestries that are entrancingly repetitive. Parker, on soprano saxophone, and Stein are on fire throughout the set. Their rapport is unmistakable, but it’s Parker’s show; his expressive lyricism never lets up for a second. Whoever thought of teaming him with Natural Information Society hit it out of the park.