Words: Dominic Valvona
Released in quick succession the upcoming congruous 75 Dollar Bill and Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society albums double-bill of entrancing experimental peregrinations not only represents the sonic intentions of Glitterbeat Records new imprint scion tak:til but also represents a mutual enterprise of partnership between networks and labels, both in Europe and in the States. The first of these albums, the 75 Dollar Bill duo of NYC-based musicians Rick Brown and Che Chen’s long-winded staccato Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock – abbreviated forthwith as W/M/P/P/R/R – was originally released back in the summer of 2016 via Thin Wrist Recordings, to much fanfare and critical acclaim from the music press. Meanwhile, Joshua Abrams’ Simultonality, the fourth album in the Natural Information Society’s nine-year history, is a new release in conjunction with eremite records – a partnership that’s hoped will spread Abrams’ vision to a wider audience in Europe.
Sharing some familiar themes with, indeed inspired by, Glitterbeat’s mini series of ambient releases, spearheaded by the re-release of Jon Hassell’s innovative “fourth world musics” classic with Brian Eno, Vol 1: Possible Musics, both albums reflect the raison d’etre of the new tak:til off-shoot. Adhering to Hassell’s blurring of the divide between futurism and tradition, 75 Dollar Bill traverse the psychedelic desert rock and trance of the Maghreb, avant-garde, jazz and even swamp boogie delta blues in a most indolent but listless transient manner on W/M/P/P/R/R. Motivated by an interest in “compound meters” – meter involves the way multiple pulse layers work together to organize music in time; a compound essentially dividing the beat into three equal parts -, but playing in a fashion that feels natural and organic, the follow-up to 2015’s more “forward momentum, stomping and shaking” style Wooden Bag is a nuanced clever exploration of interconnected tonality and tactile responses to a wealth of harmonics and melodies from a pan-global array of influences: from modal jazz to Arabic modes and eastern scales.
Expanding from a core duo of plywood crate percussion and electric guitar to a full-on accompaniment of brass, contrabass and floor tom live, Che and Brown are joined on stage by a number of friends and musicians. A loose unit, the line-up can change, though many appear on this four track suite, including Cheryl Kingan (The Scene Is Now), Andrew Lafkas (Todd Gapp’s Mystery Train), Karen Waltuch (Zeke & Karen), Rolyn Hu (True Primes) and Carey Balch (Knoxville’s Give Thanks). What they produce is an often adumbrate, repetitive experience that builds gradually, slowly releasing various tangents of interplay.
The opener, Earth Saw, for instance (a compound meter trip) meanders, or rather limps “aksak” style along to a slow 9 beat phase; one minute recalling Tinariwen, the next, something far more atavistic and ceremonial. On the following untethered to any demarcated timing Beni Said the outfit twin the delta blues origins of West Africa with the Mississippi; carousing to a box full of bottle caps apparatus percussion over sand dunes and Cajun swamp porches simultaneously. Almost as a break in transmission, the shorter (almost a vignette in comparison) Cummins Falls is powered by a Bo Diddley floor tom and maracas primal shakedown to produce a strange ritualistic link back to the rock’n’roll soup. Returning to longer expanses, the longest sonic experiment on the whole album, I’m not Trying To Wake Up, has an even looser gait and languidly moves through a wafting saxophone punctuated jazz, Afro-rock and psychedelic soundscape: a sound and music ideology best described by the augurs of doom themselves in the album’s inlay card as “tent music for tent people.”
Probing a similar soundtrack, albeit in an unconventional sense of the rhythmic and groovy meaning, Joshua Abrams’ ensemble – the first in the group’s history to be created by a regularly gigging group of players rather than associated friends – fluctuate amorphously between freeform jazz, Afro-psych, Kosmische and the ceremonial: a place where the traditional meets the contemporary avant-garde.
An album of “pure motion”, the most “structured and thru-composed” yet we’re told, Simultonality has a dense, sophisticated, more cyclical than forward shuffling movement and energy to its five track panorama. Driven on, though not in the most obvious of directions, by a trio of drummers (Hamid Drake, Mikel Avery and Frank Rosaly) each track locks in to a hypnotic and often traversing loop. Numerous junctions grow and form from this trio of beat-makers to create subtle peaks of interesting rhythms. Dividing the drums, with Avery in the left channel and Rosaly on the right in some cases, and with each playing a specific part of the beat, as they do on the transmogrified Jaki Liebezeit famous Vitamin C drum break experiment Sideways Fall (each taking a deconstructed section of that original break), you can hear something that sounds both familiar yet abstract and slightly off-kilter: The title of that track captures the never-ending free-fall of this stumbling cosmic performance perfectly.
The album’s finale uses another famous track as a prompt for a flight of fantasy to take shape from; Alice Coltrane’s mystical spiritual jazz survey, Journey In Satchidananda, inspires the group’s improvised 21281/2 South Indiana peregrination. A reference to the days when Abrams was the house bassist for the weekly sessions at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge (the address of which is used for the track title) At the end of the night as the band packed away their instruments and Anderson re-stocked the bar, the transcendental allure of Coltrane’s classic would be played in the background: the ideal comedown. In what sounds to all intents and purposes like a tune-up, as the musicians play around, the initial stirrings of this Velvet Lounge reincarnation slowly meanders and winds together to shape a meditative jazz odyssey, resplendent with a wandering, peaceable tenor sax performance from guest artist Ari Brown.
Elsewhere there’s the African flavor joint Maroon Dune that features a sustained lingering harmonium and sounds like Embryo’s Africa mixed with Brian Eno and Karl Hyde’s DBF collaboration; the Wurlitzer blaze of rotating intensity and heavy free-jazz orbital Ophiuchus; and the transcendental harp tinkled glide through a Nepalese water garden St. Cloud.
Abrams and his ensemble effectively combine old worlds and new: imaginary ones too. Borders crumble and influences merge, though the philosophical idea behind this album is to “help listeners achieve a meditative centre and to consciously use music as a gateway to living.” It certainly, even with the different dizzying drum patterns and density, entrances after a period; each track, as I’ve already mentioned, cyclonic in orientation, a cycle or in the case of Sideways Fall, a continuing drop that never quite ends.
Simultonality is a syncopation of ideas both sonorous and fleeting yet totally immersing. And perfectly, alongside 75 Dollar Bill’s harmonious offerings, suits the mood and themes of Glitterbeat’s congruous new imprint tak:til.