Ambit is one of those albums that takes a pastiche approach to various genres, picking and choosing influences with an artisanal expertise and offering up a concoction that sounds a little like everything and a little like nothing at all. The threat to this approach is a material insubstantiality, where the music is defined by its indefinable qualities and falls from memory the moment the album ends. The inoculation to that risk is a nicely crafted melody. The chamber-rock-jazz-indie-ambient-etc outfit The Cellar and Point are swimming in nicely crafted melodies.
The heart of the ensemble is guitarist Christopher Botta and drummer Joe Branciforte, who in his role as producer for his own projects and those of other modern, inventive acts like Ben Monder, Vijay Iyer and Nels Cline has become one of those multi-instrumentalist jack-of-all-trades that can add small doses of ingredients to completely fill a recording out. Both he and Botta account for all the compositions, except the two classical music compositions, György Ligeti’s “étude xv” and Anton Webern’s “fünf canons i, op.16,” which, considering the ensemble members’ participation in a number of modern classical and experimental music projects, new takes on Ligeti and Webern fall right into their wheelhouse.
But inventiveness and new takes on old music and new takes on new music are all just contextual facts when compared against the album’s greatest strength… those crisp, well-crafted melodies.
“0852” sings its melody in a series of different registers and speeds. It’s an up-tempo piece that sends love letters to the school of minimalism with its use of repetition, but the song’s hyperactive imagination just won’t let it stick to a single thought long enough to become a proper member of the class. The melody is a simple one, skeletal even, but the way the group switches up its voicing makes all the difference in providing it some character.
“Arc” has a melody with more depth, but the real joy is the way the group keeps leading out with it, throwing the melody out ahead at intervals that give the impression of chasing after stones skipped across the surface of a pond. It’s a fluid motion that fluctuates speeds with an unerring grace.
“Tabletop (a)” brings a rougher edge and a heavier touch. Electric guitar comes on strong. “Tabletop (b)” shows its romantic side, mirroring the melody of “(a),” but offering it up far less brusquely than its predecessor.
“Ruminant” harkens back to a Bill Frisell Ghost Town eeriness and folksy charm by conjuring up a melody that shimmers in the midst of a brooding song. And on the other side of town, “Purple Octagon” has a nice jaunty bounce to go with a pop music melody… crafted simply, stated simply and friendly as hell.
“White cylinder (b)” is up-tempo and a rare time when group interplay is exchanged for a series of solos. Vibes are the stand-out, dancing between the raindrops of the ensemble’s staggered groove. Its predecessor, “”White cylinder (a),” sticks to the company line of ensemble play, with the interactions of banjo and viola with other ensemble members being the highlight of this number. Both parts are up-tempo, with choppy rhythms not unlike the album’s opening statement.
Some tracks serve up the melodies only as fragments. These also tend to be the tracks whose structure is diffuse and formless, differentiating themselves from tracks with a clearer definition. “Fünf canons i, op.16″ is characterized by its lumbering motion and brief spurts of restlessness, whereas “étude xv” is a lesson in the virtue of patience. And then there’s title-track “Ambit,” which closes the show with a more heartfelt expression of the minimalistic traits that the ensemble merely flirted with on the album’s opening track.
An intriguing, smart album that has moments of stunning beauty.
Your album personnel: Christopher Botta (acoustic guitar, banjo, loops), Joe Branciforte (drums, moog bass, piano, Fender Rhodes, melodica, wurlitzer), Terrance McManus (electric guitar), Christopher Otto (violin, viola), Kevin McFarland (cello), Joe Bergen (vibes), Rufus Philpot (bass), and guests: James Ilgenfritz (contrabass), Mariel Roberts (cello) and Greg Chudzik (contrabass).
Released on Cuneiform Records.
Music from NYC.
Available at: eMusic | Bandcamp | Amazon CD/MP3