Monday, December 23, 2019

Ensemble 5: The Collective Mind, Volumes 1 & 2

   A deep-seated commitment to close listening and instant reactions characterize the stalwarts of Ensemble 5. Trombonist Robert Morgenthaler, pianist Reto Staub, bassist Fridolin Blumer, and drummer/organizer Heinz Geisser have been working as a unit for years, and the band has a regular gig in Zürich. Each month, the quartet invites a different guest to join them for an evening of improvisation. The regularity of their performances combined with the fresh outlook of a new player each month puts the musicians in a very special place of getting comfortable with one another but with the wild card of unexpected ideas. There are no guests on the two volumes of The Collective Mind, recorded on a single day in March 2018, but there are plenty of surprising twists and turns in the richly nuanced and deceptively simple call and response structures that the ensemble favors. Morgenthaler’s smoothly conversational trombone, Staub’s fragmented attack on the piano, Blumer’s stately pizzicato or rich arco playing, and Geisser’s carefully modulated drumming coalesce in a sound world of continuing fascination. Free improvisers have been known to play at great length, but Ensemble 5 prefers to keep their instant compositions generally on the short side, with only one piece (No bones about it on Volume 2) breaking the nine-minute mark. That approach, at least to the recording process, leads to a degree of self-editing and concentration that definitely works to the benefit of the listening experience. In a sense, Volume 2 picks up right where Volume 1 leaves off, with another robust batch of absorbing free improvisations. Definitely recommended.
Volume 1: Leo CD LR 858; Robert Morgenthaler (tbn) Reto Staub (p) Fridolin Blumer (b) Heinz Geisser (perc; waterphone on *); Maur, Switzerland, March 18, 2018; Hidden corners/ Spreading the envelope/ Seeing with the inner eye/ Lotus garden*/ The collective mind/ The thread of continuity/ High-Wired/ As in a dream; 48:04.
Volume 2: Leo CD LR 864; Robert Morgenthaler (tbn) Reto Staub (p) Fridolin Blumer (b) Heinz Geisser (perc); Maur, Switzerland, March 18, 2018; Peacock dance/ Trompe-l’oeil/ What if?/ No bones about it/ 4+1/ Coco/ Blue-shifted; 39:32.

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