Place is the second album from Build, a Brooklyn-based chamber-classical quintet formed in December of 2006, fronted by composer/violinist Matt McBane, and rounded out by cellist Andrea Lee, bassist Ben Campbell, pianist Michael Cassedy, and percussionist Adam Gold. The new album, a well-crafted follow-up to the group's 2008 self-titled debut, draws upon numerous traditions—chamber music, minimalism, and modal jazz prominent among them—in its hour-long journey. In composing the material, McBane came to see the album as consisting of three tripartite sections, with “Swelter,” the three-movement trio for cello, piano, and drums, bookended by contrasting three-track sections. The mere fact that the twenty-minute central part reduces Build to a trio automatically gives it a character that separates it from the other tracks. In keeping with McBane's album concept, we'll look at the album as a three-part whole.
“Behavior Patterns” provides a captivating entry point for the album with Build bringing a jazz-inflected feel to the material, much of it played in a pizzicato style and with piano chords and hi-hat accents presented in lockstep. It's a bold group that eschews bowed for pizzicato playing on an opening track, but the interlocking counterpoint of the string instruments involved makes for an arresting opener. The contrast in pitches between the bass, cello, and violin adds interest too. Drummer Gold is more prominent in the energized “Dissolve,” hardly a surprise when one considers it's, to some degree at least, the band's riff on punk rock, a move not unlike the Kronos Quartet doing “Purple Haze” and about as interesting. Considerably more satisfying is “Ride,” conceived as a literal rendering of a bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Though laid-back, the sweetly melancholic melodies that gently buoy the piece are affecting, and the way the arrangement repeatedly strips the material back to the simple bass line, drum beat, and piano chords only enhances its charm.
“Swelter” begins with the aggressive, even frenzied opening part's 7/8 meter in a way that hints at the violent altercations that sometimes arise between residents during a NYC summer. There's a relentlessness and nervous energy about the track's sawing cello and percussive piano attack that's again wholly in keeping with that phenomenon. The tempo slows and the mood quietens during the middle part, a move that allows for some particular graceful playing from cellist Lee and sensitive support from Gold and pianist Cassedy. The final section mirrors the opening in using an unusual meter, this time 5/4 in a style that hints at a Steve Reich influence in its systems-based layering.
“Cleave” opens in funereal and dirge-like mode, with strings stretching out into a siren-like drone while plaintive piano chords appear overtop, the mood disrupted by the intermittent punctuation of the drummer's snare and bass drum. What happens over the subsequent seven minutes is engrossing, however, as Gold's playing gradually fills out into fuller patterns and the strings grow ever more woozy, until both drop away, leaving piano and bass alone to carry the mournful mood home. Vibes replace the drum set during “Anchor,” which, unlike its title, seems to lack one when the group surfaces in duo and trio configurations over its ten-minute run. A mid-song weave of staccato lines proves ear-catching (especially when delivered in a hocketing formation), but the piece as a whole ultimately comes to seem more like a set of connecting parts than unified whole. Place ends on a positive note, however, when “Maintain” caps it with a more straightforward composition animated by bowing patterns that constantly push upwards until the piece culminates in a well-earned climax.
Though a few questionable moments emerge, Place is nevertheless a recording that can be recommended without reservation. It's another in a recent series of outstanding releases from the New Amsterdam camp—Sarah Kirkland Snider's Penelope and Victoire's Cathedral City immediately spring to mind as others—, one that in this case may not be completely satisfying but is nevertheless always compelling and original.