Another Tuneful, Fascinating, Hypnotic Album from Ensemble Et. Al.
Idiosyncratic, cutting-edge percussion group Ensemble Et. Al. create catchy compositions with hypnotic grooves that bridge the gap between chillout instrumentals, pastoral jazz and indie classical music. Their previous ep When the Tape Runs Out was a lot of fun, as is their new one Present Point Passed, streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page. The quartet of group leader Ron Tucker, J. Ross Marshall, Jeff Eng and Charles Kessenich plays the album release show at Spectrum at 8 PM on Jan 18.
The opening track, No Matter How Fast You Run Today sets the stage for the rest of the album, a shuffling, mechanical series of cymbal loops underpining a resonant vibraphone melody. The tune’s warm/cold dichotomy reminds of a more minimalistic version of vibraphone-driven jazz sensations Bryan & the Aardvarks.
A Brief Story Without an Ending works a similar contrast through a series of simple, direct, modal vibraphone vamps that rise and fall on waves from the drums and cymbals. An Afterword of an Image balances mechanical marimba phrases against steady bells and resonant vibraphone that ebb and flow with a hypnotic, carillonesque grace. Choose Your Own Adventure takes a rather droll riff that sounds like a doorchime and weaves it amid long, suspenseful crescendos that begin as drones and peak with a restrained, precisely rippling intensity.
Where the Past Goes Once You Forget sets echoes of both carillon and gamelan music to a tricky tempo with insistent countermelodies and a simple, catchy synth bassline. The final track, Clock-Watching Isn’t Waiting weaves a couple of mechanical vibraphone riffs into a lullaby of sorts to which the ensemble adds more jaunty but similarly hypnotic, intertwined variations. If lingering, intricate and understatedly rhythmic tunesmithing is your thing, this music will draw you in and hold you rapt.
One closing thought: because this group uses synth bass here and there, why not put bass on all the arrangements? That isn’t to say that the group’s sound is lacking in any way, only that a harmonic anchor on the low end and yet another intriguing texture where presently there isn’t much of one would make this music even more captivating.
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