Mòs ensemble - Behind the marble
Belgian group Mòs ensemble describe themselves as "a pristine archipelago in a sea of jazz, folk and psychedelica." It's a persuasive description of their eclectic style, which is also informed by contemporary classical music.
This is their second album and the six tracks have a single minded unity, each blending the group's three singers and six instrumentalists in complex harmonies and counterpoint. The sound is captivating, the compositions and arrangements always interesting; occasionally it seems a little too intense and I found myself wishing one of the voices or instruments would cut loose from the very disciplined approach. Having said that, there are no wasted notes and it sounds as if the arrangements are exactly what composer and bass/cello player Kobe Boon intended. The album sometimes reminds me of bands like King Crimson and it's not surprising that the band's website refers to Brian Eno. It also has some of the baroque feel and cellular structure of Brian Wilson's "Smile".
There is a lot of improvisation at a micro level, just below the surface, but no solos; any improvisation on form or narrative must have taken place at the rehearsal stage. This is confirmed by live recordings which stick closely to the format and sound of the album tracks.
The voices of Astrid Creve, Marta Del Grandi and Roos Denayer blend beautifully, whether in unison or in some challenging 3 part harmonies and note clusters, some using microtones. Their vocal style is more folk than jazz; no vibrato but plenty of bent notes. This is mirrored by a subtle blend of bass clarinet and sax (Benjamin Hermans and Ambroos Deschepper) often with bowed double bass providing a smokey foundation. These harmonic groups are underpinned by a steady pulse from arpeggio guitars and drums from Artan Buleshkaj and Simon Raman, both fine players who drive the music forward but mostly stay in the background.
Track 1 "A peel of your blue face" is a good example, adding these elements gradually and building to a tense climax, the atmosphere enhanced by ambient electronics to visionary effect. Track 2 "Pictures of us" begins with ensemble whistling, sliding theremin style as voices join, then a potent syncopated groove from drums and bass leads to a wind ensemble, apparently a 10/8 "oompah" pattern. The recording is vivid and perfectly balanced but even so it's occasionally hard to follow the lyrics, the density of sound recalling the Cocteau Twins. Track 3 "Shoot" is driven along by a tasty drum pattern on brushes, changing subtly every bar or so.
"My shadow" begins with shaker and banjoline, building with modal harmonies to a distorted guitar section with an atonal prog-rock feel which reminded me of Gentle Giant or Van de Graaf Generator. "Rind" combines two acoustic guitars with vocal note clusters, flute flourishes and tremolando cello harmonics to create an avant folk atmosphere. Finally "Sculptures" lives up to its name with some delightfully inventive sound design, polymetric syncopation which changes from section to section and vocals with shades of Cathy Berberian.
This is some seriously original music played with total commitment. It won't be to everyone's taste but people who like it will love it. Why not find out by visiting Bandcamp (click HERE), where you can listen before buying the album or individual tracks?
© Stephen Godsall