AMN Reviews: Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana – Studio Session (2021; TAK Editions)

This recording is an oddity, not only due to its musical content but also its source. Recorded mid-pandemic as an extended improvisation by nine members of Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana (EIH), Studio Session initially comes across as a piece of modern classical with its tight structures and emphasis on woodwinds and strings. But over time, the 41-minute single track loosens up and incorporates polyrhythms from several percussionists, piano, and wordless vocalizations that resemble throat singing.

Based in Cuba, a country from which we receive way too little music, EIH evades categorizations. They are serious musicians, but also street performers. Distinctly Caribbean influences subtlely wend their way through the recording. And while the piece was fully improvised, it does not resemble jazz or blues in any strict sense, or even the structured improvisations of, say Terry Riley’s In C. Instead, Studio Session is a collective stream-of-consciousness from a group of well-trained musicians.

Myriad themes come and go, and overlap with one another. Several of these build through repetition. As noted, percussion plays an outsized role. The dynamics also vary quite a bit from quieter passages with three or four instruments to all-in blasts of staccato rhythms. The result is an unconventional pairing of aggression and delicacy that transcends genre.

Studio Session came out in late October from TAK Editions. Since then I’ve been trying to write about it and kept finding that words failed. I recently revisited my notes from that time while listening, and again found this music difficult to put into text. So do sample the work using the link above. I doubt that you’ll be disappointed.