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Monday, March 9, 2015

Broken Trap Ensemble - Upés (Astral Spirits, 2014) ****

By Paul Acquaro

The Broken Trap Ensemble didn't capture me right away. The first couple times, I just did not give it the concentrated listening it deserved.  Though their music does not challenge the listener with harsh tones or calamitous cacophony, it requires holding onto snippets of ideas and fragmented motifs, which can be difficult to grab onto and follow at times. However, once you get a handle on it, the music falls into place, making more sense on each pass, until you are ensnared.

The group is violinist Kristina Dutton, drummer Daniel Pearce, cellist Teddy Rankin-Parker, and saxophonist Aram Shelton. Shelton has appeared on several excellent albums reviewed on this blog, one being his own Ton Trio II which was comprised of tunes in an Ornette Coleman vein. Here, Shelton's playing mixes well with the strings as they scrape, pinch, pluck and play long flowing lines. He can be found lurking below providing deep undertones, bursting out with melodic lines, or not playing at all, just giving room to the strings to vibrate. The strings fill a great deal of the space and provide a great deal of texture throughout. Dutton and Rankin-Parker start off the track 'Decca' with an abstract and atmospheric clash of staccato plucking and long bowed tones, while Pearce uses a cascade of small percussion to provide a imaginative pulse. 'Rata' kicks off with a clatter, then the sax joins with frenetic verve, soon followed by the cello, and finally violin, all delivering short choppy lines, creating tension and motion, underscored with a little playfulness.

The music of Broken Trap Ensemble is precise and focused, it explores spontaneous ideas and follows unpredictable paths.  There are no composed themes, or repeated melodies - though that is not to say that there are none - for example there is clear and spritely one that jumps out on the final track 'Musea'! Upés is an album that rewards the patient listener who takes in the interactions, the tones, and the incidental harmonies that festoon its four tracks. Take your time, let this tape release auto-reverse again and again.