The unique atmosphere of The Cellar and Point's newest record Ambit
(Cuneiform, 2014) is difficult to pin down in words, let alone to classify as a particular genre. Drummer Joe Branciforte and guitarist Chris Botta's brainchild, the result of years of absorbing influences as diverse as the Wu Tang Clan and Anton Webern, is an intriguing mix of contemporary straight-eighth, mixed-meter grooves and textural, atmospheric harmonies and accompaniment, with some electric guitar mixed in for good measure.
Branciforte and Botta describe their one of a kind compositions and arrangements as "garage chamber music," which is about as perfect a description as can be given to their sound. Reminiscent of both Kneebody
and some indie rock outfits along the lines of Sufjan Stevens, whom the artists credit as an inspiration, they cover a lot of ground.
Branciforte, who has worked as an engineer for Ben Monder
, Tim Berne
, Vijay Iyer
and Nels Cline
, took on role of producer for the record while co-producing it with Botta. The impressive list of artists Branciforte has worked with reveals where the unique production values that are one of the album's most identifying and intriguing elements come from; with electronic beats and effects introducing and highlighting important moments in the compositions, it's obvious that Branciforte is well acquainted with the nuances of the recording studio.
All technical talk aside, the seven original compositions on the album are just as compelling as the arrangements and production. Combining elements of contemporary songwriters like the aforementioned Stevens with the challenging harmonies of modern jazz or the second Viennese school while exploring challenging mixed meter rhythms, these songs are not for the faint of heart. The often very dense textures combine with moments of tense dissonance to make for some pretty heavy music without relying on effects to achieve their goal. These moments of tension also make the contrast and resolution very effective when they open up and mellow out. "Purple Octagon" is a good example of this. Their arrangements are just as compelling. Making music such as Webern's "funf canons i, op. 16" work with a completely different instrumentation is a feat in itself, and the two accomplish it beautifully.
From one song to the next, and sometimes between the beginning and end of a single song, Ambit
takes the listener on a journey through texture, timbre and time. It is a challenging and fascinating effort by two talented up-and-comers.
Track Listing: 0852; Arc; Tabletop (a); Tabletop (b); Ruminant; Purple Octagon; Fünf Canons
I, op. 16; étude xv; White Cylinder (a); White Cylinder (b); Ambit.
Personnel: Chris Botta: Guitar; Joe Branciforte: Drums; Terrance McManus: Guitar;
Christopher Otto: Violin; Jack McFarland: Cello; Joe Bergen: vibraphone;
Rufus Philpot: Bass.
Year Released: 2014
| Record Label: Cuneiform Records