Smithsonian Folkways has been serving up a wealth of archival material and reissues from the largely undersung Entourage Music Ensemble of late. Following the reissue of their debut and 2nd albums — an eponymous debut and The Neptune Collection — the label have dug up one of the most complete recordings of the group in the live setting. Like Don Cherry’s Organic Music Theatre, the Entourage group blended mediums and cultural touch points. The performances were as likely to touch on jazz, folk, and Eastern traditional structures as they were to incorporate poetry and multiple dancers spontaneously interpreting the music, at times in elaborate costume. While the latter might not come through in the recordings here, The Mermaid’s Purse: Live at Chatham College 1976 does present the band at its most well preserved in terms of capturing a live performance. The audio is pristine and finds the band folding in works from their two records along with improvisations that skew through psychedelic folk and free jazz territories.
The set is ecstatic, chaotic but carved from a studied sense. The pieces push from squall, a tornado in miniature, to plaintive folk. The title track, perhaps, exemplifying this most completely. The voices and horns die down, and a picked blues bends its way through the calm eye of Entourage’s storm. The theatrics arc throughout this performance, with the first half all tempest and tumult, while the second starts with a bit of serenity before letting the strings clamp down an anxious intensity. The group’s output was in dire need of a re-release, but this album is pure frosting on the campaign’s credibility. Finding the band in their element, blissful and blistering all at once.
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