The Summary of 4 Liner Notes

Swiss-born percussionist Heinz Geisser established his raison d’etre in this pseudo genre that many call the “new jazz” with the advent of his Collective 4tet, formed in 1992 and featuring eminent New York-based bassist/composer William Parker among other stalwarts of note. But Geisser’s classical training on guitar and percussion provides a distinct advantage because his manifold musicality tenders additional insights amid a trained ear not always evident with drummers, regardless of genre. And from a free or semi-structured point of view, his prolific discography for Leo Records and other futurist-type record labels -- stationed in the US and Europe -- spans over 25 albums, imprinted by his idiosyncratic incursions on numerous improvisation-based fronts.

Geisser often marches to the beat of a different drummer, and as American writer Henry David Thoreau (Walden) would say “…Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Hence this is a point that offers a continuum for Geisser, extended even further on Ensemble 5’s second album for Leo Records “The Summary of 4,” which is a coproduction between Swiss National Radio (''SRF Radio 2 Kultur'') and Geisser. The album was created at the prestigious Powerplay studio in late June 2013, just a few days after returning from a tour of Japan. Geisser asserts that, “After eight concerts in a row (each concert featured a different Japanese guest musician) the band was very attuned. Although the group includes four musicians we use the band name Ensemble 5. This is for two reasons. It's because we often perform with a guest musician and on a more subliminal level the ''5'' in the band name indicates the existence of an additional element in the music in the form of what I call a distributed identity. This element arises between the musicians and you could call it the soul in the music. I can see it in the figure of a ropedancer.”

A prevalent common denominator on The Summary of 4 – a basis consistent among his group-led excursions – is the group’s extraordinary intuitiveness. Even though the ensemble is nestled within an open-world protocol, they uncannily bridge other factors into the equation. At times tight and crisp, but also steeped in capacious dialogues, they execute an aggregation of deviously stated and interconnected fragmentations by subdividing themes with flights of fancy akin to splitting atoms. Indeed, Geisser and associates can dynamically alter your neural system with subtle surprises, false endings and swift changes to the gameplan that can occur in a nanosecond’s notice. However, one glaring component, unlike similar undertakings from the musicians’ peers, equate to group-think and mode of execution that does not continually force-feed the listener with ascetic, free-range dialogues. Contrarily, they perform for the audience. Hence, the band exudes a festive deportment thru playful interludes, as the instrumentalists’ mimic the human voice or inject humor and pathos to offset rigid avant-garde postulations.

The ensemble’s elusive dynamism is noticed during movements where pianist Reto Staub daintily trickles the piano keys, countered by trombonist Robert Morgenthaler’s wrathful retort. And the playful asynchronous handclaps on “Mother Earth” leads to a turtle-paced rock beat, only to be discombobulated by the rhythm section’s whizzing divisions of previously avowed statements. Moreover, double bassist Fridolin Blumer has a demanding role, as he plays traffic cop with jaunty time signatures and bristling currents, as the ensemble toggles between inward-looking sentiment and rapid paradigm shifts.

The album is not monolithic by any stretch of the imagination. Numerous choruses are brazen and in-your-face as the musicians parallel and extend channels of communication via instantaneous song-forms and frisky improvisational sorties. On the title track “The Summary of 4,” Geisser dishes out an insanely intense polyrhythmic escapade to accent a rolling and tumbling opus. Yet the kaleidoscopic sound-sculpting methodologies are somewhat innate due to the quartet’s flashing currents and undulating output, emanating from distinct musical personalities committed to a group-centric objective. Whether they hunker down and dwell within microtonal experimentation on pieces such as “Echoes,” or generate tornadic activity on the swelling and bone-rattling “Here and Now,” they adhere to a systematic process of projecting a hugely entertaining outlook. Levitating motifs, brisk call and response mechanisms and an few knock-down, drag out barroom brawl sensibilities are a few of many allusions that signal disparate metaphors. Indeed, the ensemble ignites dry kindling in a forest of free-form expressionism. There’s a quote from the 1915 film classic Birth of a Nation that seems conducive to the holistic aspect of Ensemble 5, perhaps summing up its collective sense of purpose and freely extrapolated productivity: "Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever!"

Glenn AstaritaSenior contributor to