320 kbps, LAME-encoded
About the Vinyl: Limited to 500 copies
Last summer’s spellbinding album ‘ZEBRA’ struck a chord with many listeners. Combining innovative production with an interest in music from around the globe – fourth world, Japanese avant-garde, minimalism, kosmische, dub, cosmic jazz and more – ‘ZEBRA’ found Arp (aka Alexis Georgopoulos) firing on all cylinders, drawing comparisons to Don Cherry, Midori Takada, Jon Hassell and Alice Coltrane and ultimately, made the best case yet for the polymath he is. \nCritics said as much. The album featured in numerous Best of 2018 lists – The Guardian, The Vinyl Factory, Aquarium Drunkard, Unseen Worlds, Dublab among them – and found him gaining esteemed DJ fans such as Hunee, Andrew Weatherall, Prins Thomas, Jiro (NTS) and Growing Bin’s Basso.
Prompted by Mexican Summer to debut a new live group for the label’s 10 year anniversary at New York’s art space Pioneer Works in November 2018, Georgopoulos assembled a quintet including three of the players on ‘ZEBRA’. Inspired by what they heard emanating from the stage, the label asked if Georgopoulos would be interested in recording a “live in the studio” album – a snapshot of a group “in motion”.
If ‘ZEBRA’, the first album made primarily in his new home studio, showed Georgopoulos blossoming as an arranger/producer, ‘ENSEMBLE – LIVE!’ emphasizes a different character – the sound of a group dynamic, of a vibe, of inspiration found in the moment – and how these songs work with 5 people playing them at the same time, together in a room.
“The given definition of 'ensemble' tends to refer to a group of musicians performing together, but the etymology is more nuanced”, Georgopoulos explains. "In French, 'ensemble' means 'together'. In Balinese, it translates to ‘gamelan’. It refers to a group viewed as a whole rather than individually.” If our historical moment is defined by broken lines of communication, of impasse, this music breathes life into the value of interaction. Communication is at the center of this album. A belief in exchange, of the sum being greater than it's parts. Of power in the collective.
“I went into our first rehearsal not knowing how or if the group could play together, how electronic or how organic it would be. There were a lot of unknowns. But it was clear the first day we played together that there was something really tangible, an ease and a chemistry. Each player brings real expression to the table, so it made sense to let the music breathe – rather than create a facsimile of ‘ZEBRA’ – to let the songs take on their own life. Rather than over-orchestrate, I thought, let’s just put these guys in a room, give some direction, a compass arrow pointing in a direction, and just play music.”
That ease and openness are obvious from the first meditative tones of album opener ‘Eos’. The equivalent of a door opening (in Greek mythology, Eos is the Bringer of the Dawn), the airspace is wide open. Georgopoulos uses the piano to induce the listener into a kind of suspended consciousness, as the group falls in around him. David Lackner’s emotive wind playing speaking in turn. This music transmits. There are peaks and valleys here, lots of open space, and the light is shimmering.
The ebullient ‘Nzuku’, a stand-out from ‘ZEBRA’, is given a faithful if expressive interpretation here, with the middle section reaching new heights. ‘Kalimboid’ follows and finds the group in fiery form. A minimoog sequence, evoking a kalimba, begins, reverbed hand percussion dancing and getting quite loose, before drums enter, well charged. A horn motif enters before going into uncharted, heated terrain. Proof the group can not only create deep listening, but also propulsive music, on the edge of chaos.
The resplendent ‘Reading A Wave’, another ‘ZEBRA’ standout, is the album’s centrepiece. Electric piano, bowed double bass and percussion – going through what amounts to a King Tubby’s worth of tape delay – sets the airy tone. In comparison with the album version, the cadence of the two-note bass cycle here is positively reclined. Lackner is on top form here, conjuring a magical meeting of Terry Riley and ‘In A Silent Way’-era Miles in the ECM studio, before Georgopoulos switches to a piano that seems to descend from a cracking summer sky with thunderous clouds on the brink. Truly transcendent stuff.
‘Voices’, one of the four new tracks written for this album, emphasizes the case that though ‘ENSEMBLE – LIVE!’ leans towards cosmic and exploratory jazz, there is more at work here. A kind of abstracted rainforest kosmische – evoking Finis Africae, one of Georgopoulos’ favorite groups – featuring harmonized flute shooting out atop a minimal Holger Czukay-like abstracted bassline, this is 4th World music par excellence.
The final two tracks pivot towards the introspective. ‘Ozu’ the album’s most pensive and spacious piece, is given a moody interpretation. Closer ‘Autumn Piece (for Jiri Kovanda)’, as its title hints, leans toward the autumnal. Inspired by the likes of the Entourage Music and Theater Ensemble, and Basil Kirchin, a dreamlike tone pervades. You can sense something in the air. The wind carries a message. There is a new door to be opened. A new key to find.