Heart In Fist

Excellent set of contemporary instrumental music by the Arcomusical ensemble, led by the player and composer Geoffrey Beyer, on their collection Emigre And Exile (PANORAMIC PAN25). Beyer and his crew put the spotlight on the berimbau, an Afro-Brazilian instrument that is part of a family of bowed percussion musical instruments from the African regions, many of them evolving from gourd instruments…the berimbau also has a place in Brazilian culture as part of capoeira martial arts.

Beyer and Arcomusical are on a mission to expand the repertoire of music that can be played on this indigenous instrument, and cultivate a diversity of musical approaches on this album – compositions, solo works, ensemble works, combining the berimbau with classical percussion instruments, allowing for a variety of melodic and rhythmic patterns. We can’t really say that they’re trying to “insert” the berimbau into Western classical traditions, despite all the obvious skills of the players involved, and instead they work to a very open-minded and porous musical philosophy, which undoubtedly do much to enlarge the musical potential of the berimbau, moving it well beyond any “folk” or “ethnic” traditions. Thankfully, they do all this without amplification or adding any electronic instruments or effects.

The showcase piece here might just be the impressive title track, composed in six movements by Matt Ulery, and performed by six berimbau players with the composer joining them on double bass. I like the idea that the ensemble “sounds like one hyper- berimbau”, as the press notes have it, and the piece is full of ingenious subtle shifting rhythms with a fascinating lilt; it’s impressive how the melodic and harmonic elements just seem to float out of the music, in a delicate way that makes most scored classical music seem almost overstated by comparison. Issued in a digipak with a booklet of notes and colour photographs. Available via New Focus Recordings. (18/03/2022)