Some musicians rely upon unremitting clarity to communicate their ideas. But ironically, a bit of murkiness can work quite well to accomplish the same end. The second Boxhead Ensemble release, Two Brothers,
is murky in the extreme, yet it works just fine. The stated intention of the disc is a revisitation of mid-19th century American music, and Two Brothers
certainly reflects an aspect of folk simplicityat times bordering on the naive.
Lone string or reed melodies gently amble along winding paths through a dark, textured field. Thematic progress generally occurs at a glacial pace, allowing (and forcing) the listener to appreciate the subtle beauty of the moment. Despite a lengthy list of contributors on Two Brothers, the music never sounds crowded. That's most likely due to the musical direction of Michael Kraussner and the virtuoso recording and mixing efforts of Kraussner and Joe Ferguson.
Although Kraussner may be the formal director of the Boxhead Ensemble, Two Brothers conveys a strong sense of musical democracy. Quietly lilting strings twist around understated counterpoint. Whooshing cymbal percussion provides an almost aquatic feel as the music advances through waves of sound. Consonance may be the general rule, but Two Brothers also contains plenty of moments where tight intervals, distortion, alternative techniques, and irregular lines contribute tension. In fact, these occasional sonic collisions help build energy, which can then spread and dilute itself through a group aura that gradually resolves back into refined order.
The Boxhead Ensemble quite honestly has a flavor all its own; there are very few reasonable musical reference points which can serve for comparison. Even the group's rendition of the American standard "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" bears only the most remote similarity to the mood and tempo of the original. The centerpiece of the record, the 18-minute long tune "Two Brothers," has an energizing, forward-looking orientation, fueled largely by a generous helping of (what sounds a lot like) creative group improvisation.
Two Brothers offers a salient irony: music with pastoral, organic, and often circuitous themes can convey the same amount of punch as the fastest, densest, and most linear alternatives. Two Brothers has this kind of quiet energyand to fully appreciate the understated art of the Boxhead Ensemble, you'd best give it some time and your full attention.
Personnel: Jessica Billey; Ryan Hembrey; Glenn Kotche; Michael Krassner; Fred Lonberg-Holm; Scott Tuma; David Curry; Steve Dorocke; Gerald Dowd; Joe Ferguson; Guillermo Gregorio; Jeff Parker; Mick Turner; Jeff Tweedy; Jim White.