The Cellar and Point, Ambit

John Schaefer

By John Schaefer

on 10.14.14 in Reviews

Guitarist Christopher Botta and drummer/producer Joseph Branciforte winningly refer to their oddly constructed, oddly named septet as a “garage chamber” group. That group, called the Cellar and Point, includes both acoustic and electric guitars, violin and cello (Christopher Otto and Kevin McFarland, respectively, from the renowned JACK Quartet), bass, vibes (Joe Bergen of Transit and Mantra Percussion) and drums. The band’s debut, Ambit, claims an impressive amount of sonic territory (as the album title implies): Chamber music, rock, jazz, post-rock and electronic all rub elbows, and the sparks fly. The track “0852″ is a good example — this episodic work goes from vibes and breakbeats to a jazzy prog interlude to a kind of unsettling ambient music. Another key track is “arc,” a lovely, mid-tempo piece with long, flowing electronics, where the strings blend almost imperceptibly into the electronic texture, while guitar and vibes propel the work forward.

Post-everything music from NY’s “garage chamber” band

A brief moment of ominous electric guitar near the end of “arc” calls back to the shoegaze movement of the ’90s, but a much stronger influence is the first wave of ’90s post-rock bands, like Tortoise and Rachel’s. You hear it perhaps most clearly in “Ruminant,” where drummer Branciforte doubles on piano; the ethereal washes of sound, driven by bass and drums, are reminiscent of the best of Rachel’s. Although it sounds organic, “Ruminant” is actually a studio creation, made from a series of improvisations. The production trickery is somewhat more obvious in “Purple Octagon.” The piece is melodically and rhythmically direct — enabling the group to combine jazz and rock without devolving into the dreaded fusion.

The title track may be the clearest statement of the band’s freewheeling approach. Live parts were played over a track of slowed-down sounds, and then the whole piece was played back and rerecorded, Alvin Lucier-style, into a reverberant rotunda in the Bronx, which adds a dark, spacy texture to the work.

Branciforte and Botta wrote almost all of the music on Ambit, but there are two telling exceptions: the “etude XV” by the Hungarian composer György Ligeti and the first of the Five Canons by the Austrian Anton Webern. If the choice was meant to show the group’s classical bona fides, the arrangements show that Cellar and Point have moved into a territory all their own.