Natural Information Society Credit: Bryon Whitley

While it’s impossible to pinpoint a single peak in John Coltrane’s vast discography, Ascension is one of his most intense expressions of transcendental intent. Local musician Joshua Abrams knows his Coltrane, so it’s no accident that he’s given the name Descension to this summit between his group Natural Information Society and English saxophonist (and fellow Coltrane aficionado) Evan Parker, recorded in 2019 at London’s Cafe Oto. The title of the 75-minute piece suggests downward movement, but the recording proves just as effective as Coltrane’s music at inducing an ecstatic state—even though it incorporates influences that never showed up in the master’s work. Abrams is a multi-instrumentalist who has worked as a jazz and pop bassist, a free improviser, a DJ, and a soundtrack composer, and he understands the importance of bringing the right tool to the job. With NIS, he plays the guimbri, a Moroccan three-string lute that’s often used in prayer and healing ceremonies by the Gnawa (an ethnic group descended from an enslaved population brought to Morocco from the Sahel). Abrams is fully cognizant of the instrument’s spiritual role in traditional contexts, but he’s also characterized it as “the original 808” because of its visceral bass tones. The hurtling rhythms that he and drummer Mikel Avery lay down on Descension sound like a convergence of Gnawa ritual rhythms with disco and house beats, and bass clarinetist Jason Stein and harmonium player Lisa Alvarado braid spiraling melodies and flickering textures into those grooves. While NIS are quite capable of evoking rapture on their own, the intricate and astoundingly lengthy lines that Parker threads through their playing put the music over the top.   v