The Balustrade Ensemble, Renewed Brilliance

balus_renewIf you took a piece of chamber music, a sort of small-consort, genteel kind of thing, and carefully eased it through a gauzy, eyes-half-open filter to create a here-but-distant motif, you might end up with something like Renewed Brilliance. Guitarist and composer Grant Miller brings a team of acoustic musicians into the studio as The Balustrade Ensemble, and together they turn out nine hard-to-define pieces that are deep, engaging, complex without being pretentious, and well worth listening to  many times over. I like that nothing here demands to be heard; Miller’s shadowbox vignettes are full of minute details and thoughtful structures. The slow and graceful movement of “Aerial Verandis” describes, in my mind, a lithe, porcelain ballerina dancing alone. Clockwork pizzicato makes it feel charmingly mechanical, a thing of springs and well-worn gears. Too imagery-ish for you? Have to admit, this happens a lot as I pass through this album. I can’t help but see, in my mind’s eye, everything coming across in the blurred sepia of old photos. The tone is set straight away with “Bathyal Reel,” Miller’s first guitar notes ringing clearly over an ambient-esque wash. But listen closer, and that wash is made of many elements and they begin to slip their way to the front but remain half-hidden in the haze. “The Arch Scopes Cleave” layers on the crackle of old recordings as it showcases Erik Friedlander’s lush cello work. The piece feels fragile but important enough to carefully show us. A rivulet of sadness courses quietly through it. Deterioration of sound is a factor in “Processionary” as well. Miller picks out a clean melody, supported by strings, and every now and then the sound suddenly crunches, skips, or warbles. (I assume this is courtesy of Scott Solter, who is listed in the credits as “Recording, mixing, and tinted vapors.”) This is the kind of thing I enjoy—taking something simple and clean and then coarsening the sound somehow or adding that unexpected element. And throughout Renewed Brilliance, there are plenty of well-made unexpected moments. A deeply explorable work from The Balustrade Ensemble.

Available from Serein.

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