Meridian Arts Ensemble: Brass With A Twist With an innovative repertoire and creative musical arrangements, the five brass players of the Meridian Arts Ensemble — and the group's new percussionist — have redefined the boundaries of the traditionally stodgy brass quintet in music that ranges from J.S. Bach to Frank Zappa.


Music Reviews

Meridian Arts Ensemble: Brass With A Twist

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Traditionally, a brass ensemble is a quintet. The Meridian Arts Ensemble has expanded that by adding a percussionist. The group's new album is called "Timbrando." It's a collection of music by composers from Latin America. And Tom Manoff has this review.

TOM MANOFF: I've never really liked brass quintet recordings - at Christmas, sure. But most often, I find the texture too homogenized, more like a wall of sound than an interesting mesh of instruments. Then I heard this new album from the Meridian Arts Ensemble, with a recorded sound in which each player finds his own musical space. The percussionist here plays a marimba, heard quietly in the background.

(Soundbite of music "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5")

MANOFF: This is an arrangement of a famous piece by Brazilian composer Hector Villa-Lobos, his "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5." It was originally scored for a soprano and eight cellos, a very different sound than a brass quintet. No way this group brings this off, I thought, but I was wrong.

(Soundbite of music "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5")

MANOFF: This performance avoids that sameness of sound that bothers me in so many other brass ensemble recordings. The musical textures here are rich without being dense because the players have looked to the inner life of the music, delineating the counterpoint and the harmonies. I come away knowing this work better and loving it more.

(Soundbite of music "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5")

MANOFF: Many of the works on this album are in bold, contemporary styles in which percussion has an important role, creating shifting textures and spiky rhythms that break up the dissonant harmonies. This is music by the Cuban composer Dafnis Prieto.

(Soundbite of music "Echo-Dimensions")

MANOFF: The Meridian Ensemble play in a style somewhere between jazz and classical, and often with a sense of humor. Here's some deliciously edgy music from composer Tania Leon.

(Soundbite of music "Saoko")

MANOFF: Looks like my troubles with recorded brass music are over. Now, I'm waiting for the Meridian Arts Ensemble's Christmas album, and their Easter album. I'll even take a photo album from these guys. They're that good.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: The new album from the Meridian Arts Ensemble is called "Timbrando." Our critic is Tom Manoff.

(Soundbite of music)

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