NOW Ensemble - Awake | Album review
NOW Ensemble’s frenetic second album continuously expands on themes of optimism and growth.
Formed by a clique of Yale buddies in 2002, NOW consisted of five instrumentalists and two core, nonperforming composers, Patrick Burke and Judd Greenstein. After a self-titled debut three years ago on its own progressive label, New Amsterdam, the ensemble is back in action with a second helping of chamber-meets-pop ebullience.
Awake offers six new pieces, three by NOW members. Greenstein’s epic, 13-minute “Change” opens with a fluttering, elegant energy, like a hummingbird trying to find its way out of a trap. The desperate freneticism is finally put down by a simply strummed guitar chord. Greenstein communicates a spectrum of life and urgency while deftly exercising the right amount of restraint. Burke’s gamelan-drenched title track and NOW guitarist Mark Dancigers’s “Burst,” which bustles with the pentatonic melodies of African popular music, contain similar vitality.
Non-NOW scribes David Crowell, Missy Mazzoli and Sean Friar are savvy choices to complete an album that is not always easy listening. All players push their instruments to the limit, from the howling madness of Friar’s “Velvet Hammer” to the turbulence of Mazzoli’s “Magic with Everyday Objects,” the album continuously expands on themes of optimism and growth.