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Ensemble Off 'N' On

Ensemble Off n On releases strong debut CD

Robert Bush, June 12, 2012

The San Diego collective group known as Ensemble Off n On has just released their debut CD, and it's a wonderfully sloppy, yet virtuosic leap into the free-jazz world.

Made up of guitarist Nate Jarrell, powerhouse drummer Jeanette Kangas and double bassist Harley Magsino, Ensemble Off n On combines originals with several out-of-the-box covers--including titles by Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and Jimi Hendrix.

Opening with a Jarrell original, "The Turtles Are Racing Tonight," the trio sounds full and self-contained. Jarrell's smart, oblique voicings are underpinned by Magsino's breathing half-notes and Kangas' crystal clear ride-cymbal pings. The guitarist takes flight--exploring every nook and cranny before Magsino enters with wide glissandi and pithy double-stops.

This disc seems like it could be the calling card for Magsino. Every solo he takes is golden--filled with rich ideas, extended -techniques and a huge, personal sound.

Ornette Coleman's "Happy House," comes next, and that's a tall order, in my book. The Coleman repertory band Old & New Dreams pretty much owns this tune, but I like where this trio takes it after the head: completely "out" and totally free. Jarrell uses distortion as a device to extend the legato aspects of his phrasing very well, and Kangas' drumming is full of surprises.

They also do a manic reading of NYC pianist Frank Kimbrough's "Quickening," powered by the relentless ride-cymbal articulations of Kangas. Jarrell embarks on a grainy solo augmented by backwards loops and Magsino's groaning electronics-- which are so startling, the first time I heard this on my car-stereo, I pulled over, thinking my muffler had dropped.

"When The Whole World Ends," by the bassist, utilizes over-driven guitars and choppy, rock-beats to hammer home its message, kind of a grunge-meets-free aesthetic, like Vernon Reid sitting in with Nirvana. Magsino takes an astonishing arco solo that starts "outside" and ventures considerably further.

Hendrix's, "Castles Made Of Sand," features some really tasty Jarrell improv over a looped recording of a Hendrix interview.

This is a great debut of adventuresome music by some serious local talent.

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