Natural Information Society & Bitchin Bajas – Automaginary

Released in 2015 on Drag City

Silk-screened cover

Format: LP


Review:

On Automaginary, the Gnawa-inspired cosmic jazz of Natural Information Society is augmented by the flowing textures of Chicago new age trio Bitchin Bajas.

Side A consists entirely of a long, watery drone, where the rhythms are based on the slow ebb and flow of deep, bowed upright bass. The sounds of harmonium, synths, keys, washy cymbal swells, and guitar meld together into one oceanic mass, occasionally poking their individual heads out. The sparse drumming of Frank Rosaly and Mikel Avery churn quietly under the surface, occasionally building up entropy but never getting overwhelming. About halfway through this soothing, hypnotic track, Rob Frye’s breathy bass clarinet finally finds it’s way to the surface, like a lighthouse beacon coming into view. Abrams occasionally works in dissonant bowing on bass to create subtle tension in this mostly peaceful drone.

The four tracks on side B are more representative of the locked, polyrhythmic music NIS usually creates. Time signatures change fluidly on “Anemometer” with its groovy guimbri basslines and loose pulsing drums. The bubbly synthesizers and dreamy delayed flutes from Bitchin Bajas are certainly welcome textural additions to this more typical NIS track. “Tricks Me My Mind” is based around the rhythmic figures on the autoharp rather than guimbri, while flutes, drones and scratchy string instruments invoke an eerie atmosphere. A determined ostinato on the guimbri drives “Sign Spinners” while the other instruments lock into their own contrapuntal rhythms. Bennie Maupin’s shadowy bass clarinet work on Mwandishi and Bitches Brew comes to mind when Frye’s bass clarinet starts to mimic the guimbri ostinato. This drive continues until the instruments fade out one at a time, giving the music a never ending, cyclical quality. The closing title track fades in with a slow, head-nodding 5/4 groove held together by locked guimbri, a sturdy metronomic drum pulse, and lightly strummed rhythm guitar. Bass clarinet shadows the guimbri-line again, but eventually branches off into its own melodic ostinato. Overall this record is full of trance-inducing rhythms at a variety of tempos and layers of enveloping textures. The two bands work quite organically together and I would love to hear another collaboration in the future.

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