by Brad Roberts
What a treat to get this CD. As a big fan of chamber ensemble music, I knew the minute the first song began that I was in for something special and unusual. But genre labels may prove difficult for the Brendan Eder Ensemble. Just as you think you may have pegged their sound, the next song forces you to redefine their boundaries.
Obviously Eder is classically trained with a broad musical knowledge, for the influences of the classics, jazz, and Broadway all are evident. Ravel, Debussy, Kurt Weill, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stephen Sondheim all came to mind instantly. Such an eclectic mix led me to want to find out more about Eder's background.
A graduate of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and a winner of the Ellis Prize for Composition in 2008, the Los Angeles native already has a few film scores for some independent and experimental films to his credit including Ari Aster's Portrait Series and Feeding Mr. Baldwin.
He plays the drums and something called the melodica, which is a free reed system hand held organ operated by blowing through a mouthpiece to produce a sound somewhere between an organ and a harmonica. Accompanists on the album play a range of wind instruments which adds up to a wind orchestra.
"Bentley Safari" starts off like a score for a silent German film from the 1930s, until the woodwinds are augmented by a shambling beat, sending the piece in another direction altogether. It makes me think about images of odd angles and expressionist lighting, and then Dr. Caligari starts dancing.
"Five" totally reminded me of Sondheim, particularly the 'Sunday In The Park With George' Sondheim, with it's staccato beats and simple orchestrations, recalling a patently French sound. And it does make me think of George Seurat's pointillism. "Pastorale" is aptly named for it's strong evocation of a landscape waking up in the morning, a dew kissed field, or running water in a mountain stream. One can almost hear the chirping birds.
"Panther" is a lively number, bouyant and effervescent, while "Start" leans more toward jazz "Vamp" employs hand claps to emphasize the percussive beat provided first by the bass, later with drums.
"Vulnerability" is a study in simplicity. A delicately structured mood piece that is steeped in nostalgia. Starts out like Debussy with an occasional dramatic flourish which gives the composition form and direction. The album ends with the elusive, moody "Cache" which evokes wind in the trees or waves breaking on the beach, with it's fence swirl of seemingly improvisational sounds.
The artists on this album that make up the Brendan Eder Ensemble are, Sarah Robinson on flute, Henry Soloman on alto sax, Paul Curtis on bassoon, Andrew Leonard plays clarinets, and Sam Wilkes is on bass. And the whole thing is mixed and produced by Brendan Eder. If you've a taste for the unusual, improvisational or out and out experimental, give this album a spin. It will broaden your horizons and feed your brain. I've been enjoying the album for a while now and it has become part of my daily listening. Now I long to hear a live performance.