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Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society with Alex Hawkins

Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society with Alex Hawkins
( Café Oto, 8 July 2019. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Joshua Abram’s Natural Information Society are playing two nights at Café Oto with special guests Alex Hawkins on Day 1 and Evan Parker on Day 2 (tonight). It is a quartet version of the band with Joshua playing just the guimbri (no bass), Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and gong, Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Mikel Avery on drums.

Joshua Abrams playing the guimbri (Publicity photo)

Abrams commented before the set that they were going to play their ‘slow’ set. This was one extended set built around a repetitive minimalism that was reminiscent of early pieces by Steve Reich and Philip Glass. This was led by Abrams on the guimbri, a guitar or lute type instrument from Morocco with a low sound that one can imagine being used in trance-type situations, but there was initially a kind of call and response with Alvarado on the harmonium and Stein on the bass clarinet that created some very attractive and often mesmerising textures.

This was quite structured and these passages continued until I certainly was beginning to think that the repetition was becoming a little excessive, but then the music moved into a series of solos, from the piano, then on to the guimbri and in due course to the bass clarinet. These solos were quite powerful and took the pace of the music up a level. Hawkins had seemed a little uncertain on how to contribute in the early passages, but his solo took the music into very interesting new territory which was built upon in the subsequent solos from other members of the group. In an interview with the Pitchfork website, Abrams mentioned that he encourages members of the band to “keep alert but stay patient, and we can get to a focused place where we can feel that it can go on forever”.  Alex Hawkins had clearly taken this advice on board!

At times the music made me think of The Necks, but it was pointed out to me that the repetition in The Necks’ music was organic, whereas that of the Natural Information Society is quite structured.

The music continued to move between ensemble passages and solos before building up to a very pleasing climax. At its conclusion, it received a very warm response from a good-sized audience. The music is repetitive, but the textures created from the instrumentation do create a mesmerising effect that clearly engaged the Café Oto audience. This effect was also augmented by the playing of one long set without interruption, announcements or applause until it was finished. For me this kind of intense listening for a period of up to 75 minutes is one of the great experiences in music and this was an excellent example of it.

This evening (9 July) the group will be playing their ‘fast’ set with Evan Parker joining them as guest.  I will be fascinated to hear how that works!  

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