Ensemble, Et Al. is a four-piece band that could have just as easily been named “Percussion, Unlimited” for its makeup of all-percussive instruments: marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, drums, Indian cowbells and Tibetan Bowls. Only the spare use of a Moog synthesizers strays from the mission. Comprised of Ron Tucker, Charles Kessenich, J. Ross Marshall, and Jeff Eng, this isn’t a cluster of drum solos or an overload of tribal beats. The quartet’s specialty is its leveraging of the intersection of harmony and rhythm inherent in these instruments.
For their latest album Present Point Passed, nothing makes this case better than the song chosen to get things started, “No Matter How Fast You Run Today, You Will Never Catch Up To Tomorrow.” It’s an entrancing alchemy of melody and percussion, accomplished with shades of Brazilian and African beats and lots of nifty layering. Reich-ian minimalism is also often the order of the day, exemplified by the repeating, mutating figure on “A Brief Story Without An Ending” applied to vibes and marimba as drums come and go in waves. The ostinato on “Clock-Watching Isn’t Waiting” is constructed by interlocking vibes and glockenspiel, and paced like a classical piece.
I also like “An Afterword Of An Image,” where the tonal instruments are intricately pieced together like an old gear-based clock and even the wordless harmony vocals briefly add to the mosaic of bright sounds. “The Past Goes Once You Forget” is a rainstorm of glock and vibes; a simple recurring fragment parlayed into a hypnotic trance with funky drums to ward off monotony.
Everywhere, tonality and texture take precedence over melody, and the melody springs forth anyway. It’s really hard to classify this music, but I call it “organic downtempo music.” Whatever it’s called, the words “damned good” should go before it.
Present Point Passed will go on sale January 21. Visit Ensemble, Et Al.’s website for more info.