Emanating from the ever-rich live music scene in Chicago, Natural Information Society (NIS) was formed in 2010 by bassist/composer/frontman Joshua Abrams. For decades, as a staple of the indie- and post-rock scenes as well as the jazz and experimental sets, Abrams has forged a new path in communal sonic temporalities with NIS, a group exploring “ecstatic minimalism” with a rotating line-up of improvisatory jazz and experimental players. These aural explorers set out on trance-inducing envelopes of evolving sequences, while soloists set out towards the edge of the known sonic landscape, floating just above the churning collage of sound brewing below.
While Abrams tends to ground the ensemble with his Moroccan three-string guembri—a bass-like instrument with a percussive lean from its animal hide front— a slow variation typically emerges and a percussive pattern locks in the drive, horn players add layers of sonic color with occasional drone minimalism and rudimentary drum machines tick off time in their own fashion.
With their latest offering, Since Time is Gravity (2023), NIS welcomes their largest group of musical collaborators to date, a few tracks enabling a full “tentet”, replete with multiple meandering horn lines playing amidst a rich mélange of polyrhythmic textures and patterns. Ari Brown joins the ensemble as a veteran tenor sax soloist on this release, as do Josh Berman and Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, Nick Mazzarella on alto sax, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Kara Bershad on harp, with Mikel Avery and Hamid Drake on various percussion, and Mai Sugimoto on flute.
San Antonio native Lisa Alvarado first collaborated with NIS on Joshua Abrams’ solo release Natural Information, contributing her paintings for the album’s cover art and design. Since that initial 2010 release, Alvarado has since joined the ensemble on harmonium (sometimes also gong and effects) while continuing to develop the visual counterpart of the NIS sound through her wondrously hypnotic album covers. Alvarado and Abrams met through her steady attendance at Chicago jazz shows where Abrams was playing, which eventually resulted in the two not only being artistic collaborators, but eventually married partners as well.
Having recently participated in the bellwether Whitney Biennial in 2022, Alvarado’s paintings continue to evolve and captivate, giving the artist repeated opportunities to exhibit her work at Bridget Donohue Gallery in New York and most recently at the Modern Institute in Glasgow, Scotland. The painter’s canvases quite often hang together (yet separate) as freestanding screens, sometimes emulating an open three-walled enclosure, a makeshift tent for which the traveling ensemble plays live within—and yet beyond.
Alvarado’s open modes of form and variation find easy analogues in nature, whether the bold, suggestive patterns echoed in vibrational color and light or the fluid, fractal breakdown that graces the cover of Since Time is Gravity. Her floating, psychedelic tapestries hang like fringed mandalas in time’s pulsating expansion, much like her screen-printed NIS album covers can function as a contemplative mirror or a window for a home listening experience. Alvarado’s patterned canvases breathe slowly with the unfolding pattern of growth and decay, revealing our connection to what’s just at the edge of our everyday perception, yet is always somehow present.
Primal currents pulsating through auto-generated vibratory patterns marking both time and space. A resonance that reaches beyond language and taps the innate rhythms within all of us. Bold, expressive interlocking grooves of tonal and percussive expansiveness leading us home.
These words illuminate gossamer strands of overlapping textures and unexpected shimmers of light found within both the music presented by Natural Information Society and the paintings of Lisa Alvarado. Both leveling forms grant each listener-viewer-participant open license to ground themselves within this expansive musical community’s offerings here in the bounty of nature while transcending beyond, together all the while.
About Brandon Kennedy
BRANDON KENNEDY is an occasional artist, book scout/collector, and freelance curator and writer based in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy also serves as the Texas Regional Representative for Bonhams Auctioneers. He regularly profiles Texas artists and musicians for Patron magazine and on occasion contributes to Fine Books & Collections. An ardent music enthusiast and trumpet player himself, Kennedy is thrilled to behold Natural Information Society perform at Ruby City this May!