Memory, texture, and tradition.
Joshua Abrams and Nathan Bowles have never played music together, to my knowledge, though they have played on the same bill. They don’t live in the same city, nor do they play the same instrument. They do, however, share a certain approach to music—one that both describe in pictorial, as opposed to narrative, terms. All of which to say, I thought they’d have much to discuss.
Joshua Abrams is a well-regarded jazz bassist best known in rock circles as one the founders of the Chicago-based band Town & Country, as well as the Sticks and Stones trio with Matana Roberts and Chad Taylor. He’s played with Jazz luminaries like Hamid Drake and John Tchicai, and—according to his label, Eremite records—he cites AACM, Don Cherry, Arnold Dryblatt, Hamza el Din, Popul Vuh, and Pharoah Sanders as influences. A fixture in the Chicago scene for that last decade and a half, he’s appeared on countless records by everyone from Bonny “Prince” Billy to Rhys Chatham, and from Loren Mazzacane Connors to The Roots. His current project is Natural Information Society, which has released two records to date: Natural Information in 2010, and Represencing in 2012. A new album, Magentoception, is out in May on Eremite. These albums all feature the guimbri—a Moroccan, camel-skinned, stringed instrument that both sounds and looks like a banjo crossed with a bass. Traditional gnawa musicians use it to create hypnotic, circular rhythms and bass lines. Here, the meditative thrum and buzz of Abrams’s guimbri is the centerpiece, around which swirls a wide range of sounds and textures—everything from electronic beats and samplers, to electric guitar, harmonium, and more. The result is a highly focused and beautiful tapestry—to borrow Abrams’s imagery—within which time seems to stand still.
Nathan Bowles’s recent solo record, Nansemond, was released by Paradise of Bachelors and is a haunting collection of compositions and improvisations by the banjo player and a handful of friends. The album is also a delving into memory, as the title is the name of the river in Virginia near where he grew up. It’s a beautiful, patient, and accomplished work with one foot in traditional American music and one in the contemporary experimental music world. His work with the long-lived, rural, experimental collective known as Pelt covers similar ground, but Nansemond is a truly solo record—the focused expression of an individual's vision. Bowles is also an accomplished drummer and currently plays in Steve Gunn’s band. He also plays banjo, percussion, and whatever else is needed with the Black Twig Pickers, who recently released an album with Gunn on Thrill Jockey titled Seasonal Hire.
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