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.

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

Intriguing, Catchy, Resonant Sounds from Ensemble Et. Al.

Over a year ago, adventurous percussion group Ensemble Et Al sent a package of files over the transom here. Where they sat, and sat, waiting patiently for their turn on the front page. At last, that time has come: their ep When the Tape Runs Out is a lot of fun. Most of it is streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page, along with their ep of group leader Ron Tucker’s arrangements of works by Arvo Part and Goldmund (Keith Kenniff) which is available for free download.

The opening track, A Beautiful Walk Through Industrial Wasteland builds to a groove that closely resembles Bill Withers’ Use Me. If that’s intentional, it’s clever; either way, the intricate, gamelanesque assemblage of lingering vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel tones along with less resonant metal and wood objects played by Tucker, J. Ross Marshall and Charles Kessenich manages to be both hypnotic and catchy. In a Crowded Room with Nothing to Think About works a playfully direct, Steve Reich-ish circular theme into a series of charmingly chiming layers. A disarmingly attractive, rather Lynchian lullaby, Confessions of an Honest Man balances atmospheric lows against tersely ringing highs.

Finding Simple Wonders As the Day Turns the Night develops a wickedly memorable minimalist melody into an eerie music box-like theme over an implied trip-hop groove. The ep closes with a warily spacious take on Arvo Part’s Fur Elina, a secret bonus track. Fans of downtempo and chillout music as well as indie classical types should check this out. Ensemble Et Al are on an intriguing triplebill of percussion ensembles with Concert Black and Iktus Percussion on March 26 at 8 PM at Galapagos, $15 advance tickets are recommended.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Float Away to Third River Rangoon

The original “exotica” music from the 1950s was designed to evoke a cartoonish never-neverland of tiki torches, bikini-clad geishas sipping mai tais at night on the beach, innocuous insectile noises emanating from an utterly benign jungle just a few feet away. Vibraphonist/bandleader Brian O’Neill AKA Mr. Ho’s new album Third River Rangoon, by his shapeshifting ensemble Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica may have been inspired by that subgenre, but it’s considerably more magical. It leaves far more to the imagination, a lushly nocturnal collection whose most impressive feat of sorcery is getting a simple lineup of vibraphone, bass flute, bass and percussion to create the sweep of a hundred-piece orchestra. The production is genius: Phil Spector couldn’t have done any better than this. Playful and surreal, with an unselfconscious majesty, it’s music to get lost in, just as O’Neill intended. Here he’s joined by Geni Skendo on bass flute and C-flute, Noriko Terada on percussion (and vibes and marimba as well) and Jason Davis on acoustic bass. The tongue-in-cheek title alludes to the third-stream nature of the music, a little jazz, a little classical and more than a little cinematic ambience, like Henry Mancini in a particularly atmospheric moment.

While it’s true that the title track is a deceptively simple, catchy tune with interlocking bass flute and vibes over a bossa-flavored bass pulse, that’s an awfully clinical way to put it: it’s a raft ride under the stars in the subtropical paradise of your dreams. Thor’s Arrival plays an anthemic overture theme gently over a similar staggered bossa beat: it sounds nothing like Grieg or Metallica. Milt Raskin’s Maika plays up an underlying suspense angle, contrasting with restrained yet joyous layers of reverberating vibraphone tones over stately bass; Cal Tjader’s Colorado Waltz downplays the waltz beat (good move) with some memorably offcenter leapfrogging from the flute.

How do you give the Arab Dance from Tschaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite real Middle Eastern cred? Add an oud, of course. That’s Tev Stevig (of Macedonian group Jeni Jol and many other great bands) doubling the flute lines and then kicking in a terse solo that’s Arab, not just Arabesque. O’Neill opens Phoenix, Goodbye, a bright theme that quickly grows duskier, with some distantly tense knocks on a boomy tapan drum. The most direct and surprisingly hard-hitting number here is the noirish Terre Exotique, again bouncing gently on a bossa-ish beat. The jazziest one is Autumn Digging Dance, oud and vibes together, comfortably afloat on the soft, round tones of the bass flute, Sevig contributing a confounding and somehow perfect solo that’s half blues and half levantine. The catchy, slowly swaying, distantly martial Moai Thief nicks a familiar classical theme, while Lonesome Aku of Alewife turns from shadowy allusiveness to a catchy, poppier tune, the bass soloing fat yet incisive over the verse. The album closes with a brief vignette, Lyman ’59, a late 50s noir pop melody done as a lullaby – a funeral for a south Asian dictator’s mistress, maybe. Tune in, turn on, get lost. Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica plays Otto’s Shrunken Head on June 18 – the classiest band by far to ever play that joint.

June 11, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment