Ensemble 5

Luminescence
Leo Records CD LR 888

Amplifying its sonic reach while maintaining a commitment to profound improvisation, Zürich-based Ensemble 5’s newest CD boosts its creativity with contributions from Japanese violinist Naoki Kita. Recorded at a live Tokyo concert, Luminescence’s selections adapt the jangling sounds of the fiddler, who has worked with Barre Phillips and Roger Turner, to interactive layers incorporated by percussionist Heinz Geisser, pianist Reto Staub, bassist Fridolin Blumer and trombonist Robert Morgenthaler.

Also known for his work with Uart 4.0, the trombonist is particularly ingenious here, due to his sudden ability to blend low-pitched slides and slurs with Kita’s strident string scrubs. Both players are still part of an integrated whole though, with throbbing bass textures, paced keyboard patterning and Geisser’s use of cymbal scratches, cowbell pops and drum pulses also fusing the performances.

Taking time to become comfortable as a quintet, the band attains its bearing by the first selection’s final sequence where lento expression turns vivace as each player internalizes the violinist’s abundant nervous energy. From then on the tunes flow with seamless forward motion. There’s enough freedom to include the bassist’s woody sul tasto sweeps, responsive piano comping, percussion coloration and the contrapuntal match of jagged violin string drones and trombone snarls, snorts and pumps. After moderating distinctive displays of flutter tongued brassiness, shrill string glissandi and piano cross strokes, all of which move the pitches upwards, the program climaxes with the concluding “Proceed”.

As Morgenthaler’s flatulent plunger tones unroll in tandem with Kita’s whiplash shrills, double bass pulses, drum beat splays and tight piano plinks goose the narrative from adagio to allegrissimo as staccato variations are encompassed within chromatic movement. After Staub’s stopped keys dynamics and theme detours are emphasized, constant fiddle motion and tailgate trombone slurs push the concert to a linear finale.

Improving on an already profound group process with new musical input, Ensemble 5 creates another fascinating tonal journey.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Reverie 2. Celestial Orchard 3. Luminescence 4. Proceed

Personnel: Robert Morgenthaler (trombone); Reto Staub (piano); Naoki Kita (violin); Fridolin Blumer (bass) and Heinz Geisser (percussion)