Natural Information Society, “Stigmergy” (Eremite)
The American ensemble Natural Information Society filter spiritual jazz and minimalism through a North African/ethnodelic sensibility to create trance music of exquisite detail and emotional heft. Led by guimbri player Joshua Abrams, NIS constitute a revolving-door assemblage of musicians operating at exalted levels. Their records' artwork—created by Lisa Alvarado, who also generates sonorous drones on harmonium—serves as a visual analog for the band's hypnotic tapestries of colorful sound.
As has been the case on all of NIS's albums, including the most recent one, Since Time Is Gravity, Abrams's guimbri generally leads the way without any showboating. Every instrument here—Hamid Drake's tablas, Ben Lamar Gay's cornet, Jason Stein's bass clarinet, Mikel Patrick Avery's drums, etc.—carries equal weight, as each lengthy piece undulates to the vanishing point. Because the guimbri (aka the sintir, a three-stringed, skin-covered bass-plucked lute often heard in Moroccan Gnawa music) is uncommon among Western musicians, it lends NIS a fresh timbral tint. The instrument exudes an earthy twang that hits you right in your root chakra.
The eight tracks on Since Time Is Gravity embrace mesmerizing repetition as a means toward building rigorously layered compositions that could work in arcane religious ceremonies and/or as soundtracks for tasks requiring intense focus... or maybe for tantric sex. Whether your needs be sacred or profane, NIS got you covered. With an average length of over nine minutes, these songs take on the aspect of mantras.
This is music for the patient and the mindful—which eliminates many potential listeners right away. However, if you boast a long attention span and a hunger for sublime mind expansion, standout tracks such as the 18-minute “Murmuration” and the 13-minute “Stigmergy” will launch you into higher states of consciousness and keep you suspended there for hours. “'Stigmergy' is an ensemble ostinato orbiting an Ace Tone Rhythm Ace [drum machine],” Abrams explains in the press notes, “refracted through Echoplex, dedicated to Arkestra pioneers Robert Barry and Ronnie Boykins.” If that doesn't set your mind ablaze, I feel bad for you.
Natural Information Society perform at the Neptune Theatre September 14, 7 pm, $30, all ages.
mssv, “Pity Parody” (BIG EGO)
When the late Minutemen guitarist D. Boon sang “What can be romantic to Mike Watt?” in the song “One Reporter's Opinion,” he perhaps would've received the answer “mssv.” Who? What? Mssv are the beloved avant-punk-funk bassist's excellent trio with guitarist/leader Mike Baggetta and drummer Stephen Hodges (the latter replaced the legendary session man, Jim Keltner).
If you're expecting Minutemen's righteous sociopolitical fury, think again. As I wrote for The Stranger in 2019, the songs on mssv's Wall of Flowers album “spangle, clang, and shimmer in the noirish-jazz/no-wave nexus where Joe Morris, Robert Quine, and Robert Fripp at his mellowest and most minimal dwell.” Everywhen We Go (2022) followed in a similar vein, but the new Human Reaction LP often charges into tense jazz-rock territory that will appeal to fans of Watt's solo records.
While Watt's playing is as sturdy and gripping as ever, mssv are primarily a showcase for Baggetta's athletic and astringent guitar moves; he sings, too, sometimes in a grimacing manner not unlike the aforementioned D. Boon. One anomaly is the album-closing “In This Moment,” in which Baggetta recites poignant poetry over a needling, ambient-jazz foundation that sounds like Fripp plucking icy, pointillistic notes over Bitches Brew-like bass/drum action.
Human Reaction's peak is the concise, spiky No Wave instrumental “Pity Parody.” The track zips with a lethal linearity, zeroing in on its prey with the maniacal intensity of Buy-era Contortions or Jody Harris and Robert Quine's Escape. On “Pity Parody,” mssv cram in so much thrilling causticity in under three minutes, it can power you through an entire day.
Mssv's album-release party for Human Reaction happens September 11 at Royal Room, 7 pm, $20, all ages till 10 pm.