Natural Information Society // Separatist Party // Bitchin Bajas
“Sonic Dreams: Chicago” invites listeners on the actual stage floor to become steeped in the hypnotic sound of a crucial sub-community within Chicago’s creative music scene: Joshua Abrams presents his long-running Natural Information Society, joined by special guest Ari Brown along with several Berlin musicians.
Mike Reed brings his new project, The Separatist Party, to Berlin for the first time, a group with Ben LaMar Gay on cornet, spoken word artist Marvin Tate and all three members of Bitchin Bajas, who will also present their keyboard-dominated sound in a set of their own.
Natural Information Society
Joshua Abrams has built a career by holding things down and elevating everyone around him. He’s been a mainstay of the Chicago creative music scene for three decades, working in stylistically broad contexts, whether working with reedist Matana Roberts in the collective Sticks and Stones or developing an appealing rustic take on minimalism with Town & Country. He performed at Jazzfest Berlin 2022 with Hamid Drake’s Turiya project. If anything can be gleaned from his work it’s a rigorous affinity for the hypnotic power of the groove, an endeavour that has always been front and center in Natural Information Society, which formed in 2010. The project began as an outlet for the bassist to focus on guimbri, the twangy bass-like instrument of Morocco’s Gnawan people, but over time it has steadily expanded. The leader’s compositional forms have wended through various traditions from around the world, but they are interwoven with imperatives from jazz and contemporary music.
The core quartet also features harmonium player Lisa Alvarado – also an acclaimed visual artist, who creates the group’s backdrop tapestries – bass clarinetist Jason Stein, and drummer Mikel Patrick Avery. They have crystallised into an astonishingly agile live band, but nearly all of the group’s recordings also feature guests, a major part of the ensemble’s respect for Don Cherry’s organic music ideas, which sought to bring people together while combining skill with innocence free of genre burdens. T
he group’s most recent album “Since Time is Gravity” employs a variety of Chicago improvisers into the fold, but the featured guest is the brilliant saxophonist Ari Brown, a veteran presence who has co-founded The Awakening, and worked substantially with Elvin Jones and Kahil El’Zabar’s Ritual Trio. The performance at Jazzfest Berlin 2023 will also feature several Berlin musicians: Anna Kaluza, Mia Dyberg and Axel Dörner.
- Joshua Abrams – guimbri
- Lisa Alvarado – harmonium
- Jason Stein – bass clarinet
- Mikel Avery – percussion
- Ari Brown – special guest on tenor saxophone
- Anna Kaluza – saxophone
- Mia Dyberg – saxophone
- Axel Dörner – trumpet
The Separatist Party
Drummer and bandleader Mike Reed is a driving force in Chicago creative music, not only leading his own bands like People, Places & Things and Loose Assembly, collaborating with elders like reedist Roscoe Mitchell and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and playing in the collective Artifacts with Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid, but also as an essential behind-the-scenes facilitator through his ownership of venues like Constellation and the Hungry Brain. As the impact of the pandemic began to wane he channeled his artistic restlessness into a new combo of close collaborators and friends, gathering his new sextet in early January of 2022 to develop new repertoire. The group includes the three members of Bitchin Bajas (multi-instrumentalists Cooper Crain, Rob Frye and Dan Quinlivan) along with musicians he sporadically worked with in a different trio, cornetist Ben LaMar Gay and spoken word artist Marvin Tate. The music on the group’s recent self-titled debut serves up propulsive jams balancing extroversion and dark interiority. The pieces with Tate – a powerfully centering, musical presence – dig into the contradictions and difficulties of everyday existence, confronting subtle racism, cruelty, and brotherhood in shifting proportions. The music toggles between free jazz ecstasy and buoyant, head-nodding grooves, erasing any perceived tension between mind and body.
- Mike Reed – drums
- Rob Frye – tenor saxophone, flute, percussion
- Cooper Crain – guitar, sythesizer
- Dan Quinlivan – synthesizer
- Marvin Tate – spoken word
- Ben LaMar Gay – cornet, flugelhorn, percussion
When Bitchin Bajas was formed in Chicago in 2010 the trio was chasing all sorts of aural hypnosis, embracing a psychedelic listening experience that drew upon the minimalism of Terry Riley, the spaced out Kosmiche of early Tangerine Dream, and the harmonically drenched drones of La Monte Young all filtered through a rock-driven concision. The endless mutability of guitarist and keyboardist Cooper Crain, reedist and keyboardist Rob Frye, and bassist and keyboardist Dan Quinlivan has made them excellent collaborators, and over the years they recorded with singer Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Natural Information Society, and Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux, in her Jackie Lynn guise. On its own the trio has steadily streamlined its sound, developing a keyboard-dominated approach interwoven with improvisational sallies on flute and saxophone by Frye, as an ever-expanding curiosity for sounds from around the globe is seamlessly enfolded into its mind-warping excursions. The group suffered some setbacks in recent years: most of its vintage synthesizers were stolen in Italy during a European tour in 2018 and the pandemic lockdowns stole their momentum. But the trio regrouped with some of its strongest music to date. In 2021 they tipped a hat toward Wendy Carlos’ classic “Switched on Bach” by translating a clutch of classic Sun Ra tunes for an all-synth recital called “Switched on Ra”, and last year they released their best record yet, “Bajascillators”, with four original pieces stretched into time-defying head trips.
- Cooper Crain – keys
- Dan Quinlivan – keys
- Rob Frye – keys, reeds