Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ambitious, Tuneful, Anthemic Americana Jazz from Joshua Kwassman

Newington, Connnecticut seems to be a nice enough place to grow up, one of those sleepy, comfortable New England hamlets off the interstate on the way to Boston. But it could just as easily be a setting for a Stephen King novel. Saxophonist Joshua Kwassman hails from there: the Maria Schneider-esque, pastoral sweep of his latest album Songs of the Brother Spirit has both the flinty rusticity and East Coast sophistication that define his home state at its best, as well as a moody, shadowy intensity. Here he’s joined by Gilad Hekselman and Jeff Miles on guitars, Arielle Feinman on vocals, Adam Kromelow and Angelo Di Loreto on piano, Craig Akin on bass and Rodrigo Recabarren on drums.

Kwassman distinguishes himself as a first-rate tunesmith with an ear for the imaginative and unexpected: he’ll go to an anthemic change in a second to drive a point home if he sees fit. His writing is by no means constrained by traditional jazz tropes, with a  refreshing expressiveness and purpose. The opening track, Our Land has a Chris Jentsch-like clarity, Feinman’s airy vocalese blending with Hekselman’s lyrical lines for a springlike atmosphere, building toward clave with a simmering Kromelow solo and a roaring crescendo. We Were Kids, Kwassman’s hushed childhood reflection is lush yet detailed, with bounding alto sax, Kromelow taking it down gently to a balmy horn chart.

In Light There Is Song is terse and lyrical, with an optimistic, vintage Pat Metheny vibe, guitar and vocals again driving a long trajectory upward and then back down to an unexpected ghostliness. Meditation, a pensive reflection on the inevitable losses that come with the passage of time, contrats Kwassman’s moody clarinet against Feinman’s brightness. The album’s centerpiece is a triptych, The Nowhere Trail, a darkly cinematic narrative of a summer camping trip gone disastrously awry. A distantly sinister Di Loreto pedalpoint theme recurs with variations as Miles adds an offcenter unease against the dancing anticipation underneath. They rise to a fever pitch and suddenly the mood shifts, Hekselman drifting toward an apprehensive flamenco feel, Kwassman’s menacing melodica vamp signaling that suddenly everyrthing is not well. From there a dream sequence of sorts ensues, lit up by Feinman’s meticulously nuanced, opaque vocals and surreal glockenspiel: it ends by returning to a pastoral ambience with hints of the Beatles. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-flavored jazz, from Bill Frisell to Bryan & the Aardvarks.

May 23, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment