present point passed is the debut album of Brooklyn’s ensemble, et al., a percussion group comprised of Ron Tucker, Charles Kessenich, J. Ross Marshall, and Jeff Eng. Released on January 21, 2014 by Infinite Number of Sounds Recording Company, this six-track album is a minimalist affair from the music all the way down to the package design, yet present point passed does a wonderful job of achieving this simplicity without compromising the depth or playfulness of its musical ideas.
Part of this success owes to the witty track titles which, as standalone thoughts, offer listeners something to carry with them into the listening experience.”No Matter How Fast you Run Today, you will Never Catch up to Tomorrow” is a perfect example of this interplay at work. The track opens with a solitary drum riff (plus a touch of cowbell) that brings to mind the sounds of industrial machinery; this recurring sound-image underscores the rest of the track as if to suggest the relentlessness of progress, perpetually in motion but not always moving forward. Coupled with the driving yet rounded rhythms of the marimba, the repetitive tones of the vibraphone, and the glimmers of glockenspiel, “Now Matter How Fast” leaves one feeling out of breath from exhilaration rather than exhaustion.
“A Brief Story Without An Ending” follows in a similar vein with recurring melodic patterns carried out by the marimba and vibraphone. The crash features more prominently in the drum set’s toolkit this time, allowing ensemble, et al.’s rock sensibility to shine through, but it never overpowers the lighter instrumentation on top. In this sense, “A Brief Story” is as much a listening exercise for the musicians involved – paying special attention to how the sounds of their instruments interact, relate to, and play off one another – as it is genre-blurring etude for the listener.
“An Afterword of an Image” is by far the most delicate piece in present point passed, at times reminiscent of a modified down-tempo version of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians”. The shifting, pulsating layers are hypnotic to the ears, drawing the listener deeper into a state of contemplation, and deeper into the musical subconscious with the addition of vocal harmonies near the end. As such, “An Afterword” is exactly as the title suggests: it is the sound of a thought tracing an idea.
This idea seems to introduce itself in “Choose Your Own Adventure” with a recurring glockenspiel motif, a melody that get gradually mottled by the restless din of the drums set but that still holds through to the end of the piece. If “Choose Your Own Adventure” were to embody an idiom, then it would surely be “slow and steady wins the race”. With “Where the Past Goes Once you Forget”, ensemble, et al. brings back the rock band groove in a manner which is, by now, entirely their own – never before has the sound of chimes been given such a gritty spotlight. present point passed comes to a close with “Clock-watching isn’t Waiting”, a sophisticated piece reminiscent of post-rock in terms of musical progression, but without all the traditional rock instruments and the density of sounds that they bring. It is precisely this experimentation with forms, genres, and definitions that makes ensemble, et al.’s debut album a unique and intriguing one to experience.