Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (Eremite Records)

Natural Information Society with Evan Parker

Released April 16, 2021

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2021

Arts Fuse 2021 Jazz Critics Poll Top 30 New Album




Rich in musical associations yet utterly singular in its voice, joyous with an inner tranquility, the music of Natural Information Society is unlike any other being made today. Their sixth album in eleven years for eremite records, descension (Out of Our Constrictions) is the first to be recorded live, featuring a set from London’s Cafe OTO with veteran English free-improv great Evan Parker, & the first to feature just one extended composition. The 75-minute performance, inspired by the galvanizing presence of Parker, is a sustained bacchanalia of collective ecstasy. You could call it their party album.
This was the second time Parker played with NIS. Joshua Abrams: “Both times we played compositions with Evan in mind. I don’t tell Evan anything. He’s a free agent.”
The music is focused & malleable, energized & even-keeled, drawing on concepts of ensemble playing common to musics from many locations & eras without any one specific aesthetic realization completely defining it. 
“The rhythms that Mikel plays are not an exact reference to Chicago house, but that’s in there,” Abrams says. “I like to take a cyclic view of music history, can we take that four-on-the-floor, & consider how it connects to swing-era music? Can we articulate a through line? I dee-jayed for years in Chicago & lessons I learned from playing records for dancing inform how I think about the group’s music. The listener can make connections to aspects of soul music, electronic music, minimalism, traditional folk musics, & other musics of the diaspora as well. It’s about these aspects coming together. I don’t need to mimic something, I need to embody it to get to the spirit, to get to the living thing.”
For jazz fans, the sound of Parker’s soprano & Jason Stein’s bass clarinet might evoke Coltrane & Dolphy, even though they didn’t necessarily set out to do that & they play with complete individuality. Abrams sees a bridge to the historical precedent, too. “Since we first met in the 1990s, one of the things that Evan and I connected on was Coltrane’s music,” he says. “I hoped that we would tap into that sound world intuitively. In this case, I think that level of evocation adds another layer of depth, versus a layer of reference.” 
Indeed, this is a performance in which the connections among the ensemble & the creative tension between improvisation and composition build into a complex mesh of associations & interactions. While the band confines itself to the territory mapped out by Abrams’ composition, they are remarkably attentive & responsive, making adjustments to Parker’s improvisations. When Parker’s intricate patterns of notes interweave with the band, the parts reinforce one another & the music rockets upward. Sometimes, Parker’s lines are cradled by the group’s gentle pulse & an unearthly lyrical balance is struck. 
Drummer Mikel Patrick Avery is locked-in, playing with hellacious long-form discipline, feel & responsiveness. Jason Stein’s animated, vocalized bass clarinet weaves in & out with Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium to state the piece’s thematic material; the pulsing tremolo on the harmonium brings a Spacemen 3 vibe to the party. Abrams ties together melody & rhythm on guimbri, a presence that leads without seeming to. Like his bandmates, he shifts modes of playing frequently, improvising & then returning to the composed structure.
“As specific as the composition is, the goal is to internalize it & mix it up,” Abrams says. “The idea is to get so comfortable that we can make spontaneous changes, find new routes of activity, stasis & byways every gig. It’s like a web we’re spinning. If someone makes a move, we all aim to be aware of it, make room for it. Experiencing & listening is what it’s about, & Evan supercharges that.”

& “supercharged” is the word for this album. With Parker further opening up their music, descension (Out of Our Constrictions) is the sound of Natural Information Society growing both more disciplined and freer, one of the great bands of its time on a deep run. 

Liner notes:

Breath & pulse, an unforgettable strategy for transferring energy between musicians feels more directly related to endurance than typical designations of music. The possibility of a never-ending breath allows for the weaving of complex explorations of tonal possibility between harmonium, guimbri, drum, & horn that leads to non-conventional strategies of harmony & unity. The rhythmic engine further develops the pulse, shifting the sounds from recognizable forms to other worlds of sound development & masterful play. Natural Information Society balances knowledge of historical musics with the possibility of new futures, combing many exploratory cultural idioms that help us remember the heart & low sound and hum through meditative, spiritual new music.
Music has the potential to embed us in a state of unlimited possibility that leads to another kind of emotional & spiritual territory. It is this meditative possibility that leads to trans-potentials. The music constantly allows us to shift if we stay with it long enough. Descension (Out of Our Constrictions), a 75-minute composition spanning four stations on a double-sided LP, allows us to experience that build-up. In July of 2019, I had an opportunity to play with Natural Information Society in Berlin at Arkaoda & experience the build-up first-hand. I remember feeling very happy to be away from the political complexities of the United States but still close to the culture that made me. I came to hear the ensemble as a listener & believer in the music and Joshua asked me to sit in with the group. Given the times, I chose to riff on, “My Country Tis of Thee.” Descension began & for the first 45 minutes, it unfolded. People danced & cheered & really listened. The groove was set & the intentional house/trance/drone was so evocative & in many ways, a polyphony of Chicago sounds. Abrams nodded & I joined. The ongoing rhythmic intent made it easy for me to choose a phrase & stay with it. I remember chanting over & over, sweet land of liberty, sweet land of liberty. Then, from every mountainside…. from every mountainside…..toward the end of the 40 minutes of so, I was exhausted from wailing… from breathing & shouting, let freedom ring. By the time it was over, I was on the floor & the energy made a shift from a state of trance-like intention to, what felt like a rock concert. We were all the way in. I opened my eyes & the band was still holding it down, with more intensity, but still in the zone, locked. It was like freedom was being nestled between pulse & breath & I was exhausted from wanting it & wanting to participate, in a freedom song or a free state.

Breathing in the wake of George Floyd’s death then takes on a new dysfunction – a new tonal idiom. To be choked or to be unbalanced, for a note to be held back or a sound to be silenced, no longer feel like jazz devices, but rather, a reaction to the complexities that occur on our streets & in our cities. There are shouts, but they are not wailings, there are utterances, yet they are not full speech. It is this truth that links Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) as a sign of the times. Natural Information Society forces us to imagine the myriad of voices that have fallen on our streets and hear cries & shrieks in the music as a way to understand the immeasurable & often unmediated circumstance of violence that is our new truth. & yet, within the unsettling horror of this day, there is a mantric pull that refuses to cease. An impulse toward redemption.

Theaster Gates 

Track Listing:

1. Descension I (Joshua Abrams) 17:29

2. Descension II (Joshua Abrams) 19:35

3. Descension III (Joshua Abrams) 17:09

4. Descension IV (Joshua Abrams) 20:13


Joshua Abrams: guimbri
Lisa Alvarado: harmonium & effects
Mikel Patrick Avery: drums
Evan Parker: soprano saxophone
Jason Stein: bass clarinet

Recorded July 9, 2019, at Cafe OTO, London, UK

Producers: Michael Ehlers and Joshua Abrams

Engineer: James Dunn

Mixing: Greg Norman

Mastering: Helge Sten

Cover painting: Lisa Alvarado


Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) is the sixth long-player by the Josh Abrams-led Natural Information Society, and the band’s first live offering. Recorded at London’s Cafe OTO in July of 2019, this set offers a single, 75-minute rendering of Abrams’ title composition with guest collaborator Evan Parker on soprano saxophone. While NIS has gratified listeners and live audiences with their intricate meld of jazz, folk styles, and polyrhythmic improvisations drawn from a variety of world music traditions, this proceeding is unlike anything else in their catalog. Descension exists in the ecstatic sonic terrain between 21st century Western raga, free jazz, and a rave-like party album.

Abrams’ guimbri (a plucked, three-stringed skin-covered bass lute of the Gnawa heritage) offers a six-note, single-tone vamp. He’s joined in the theme by Mikel Patrick Avery’s hypnotic drumming and Jason Stein’s bass clarinet. Lisa Alvarado’s harmonium adds a breath-like pulse before Parker’s snaky soprano wades in. The repetition is constant, but thanks to his horn, there is subtle variation from line to line, both harmonically and tonally. There is rippling energy just under the surface as Parker begins to pour out resonant skeins of circular notes, opening his lines to the rhythms then countering them. The clarinet and harmonium remain on the theme as Abrams and Avery play double time. Six minutes in, Stein responds directly to Parker’s fire breathing with counter melodies and polyrhythmic breath control. The pace quickens and dynamic tension ensues as the entire ensemble lifts off. Over the next 70 minutes, what transpires is a serpentine celebration of rhythm, polytonality, and multivalent modalities as NIS circle one another, and Parker, in turn, revolves around them. The interplay between Stein and Parker is almost jaw-dropping given its locked-on intensity; it alternately traverses across distinctive solo statements, call-and-response, and resonant unison playing while Alvarado and Avery push and pull at the fabric of sound between them. Abrams’ guimbri drives from underneath and the ensemble approaches funk; Avery’s four-beat rhythm approximates dance music as Alvarado expands her attack with reverb and delay. The constant presence of the vamp-like theme recalls at once the harmolodic groove of Ornette Coleman’s Dancing in Your Head and the wheezing, evolutionary development of Manuel Gottsching’s proto-techno E2E4. About two-thirds of the way in, the cadence shifts, and the band responds empathically with single clarinet and soprano tones offered in singsong response. Abrams, Alvarado, and Avery alight around one another, outlining the reeds’ interlocking groove. The rhythm players develop and release tension; they spiral and retreat to express intimacy, joy, and catharsis. By the time Descension reaches its nadir, all that’s left are gossamer notes, subtly refracted rhythms, and softly uttered, undulant whole tones, whispering to and caressing one another as they approach silence and the resounding, yet astonished approval of the crowd. Descension is a collaboration for the ages: It is ecstatic, improvised jazz that reverberates inside the human body like a heartbeat.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)