Once in a while, a band appears fully formed, as if they had grown to adulthood in the womb. This is the case with Bristol’s Spindle Ensemble, which is part of the larger Bloom Collective. The album is named after the cellist’s newborn daughter, and the music is as magical as the fairy tales that inspire the ensemble’s name, from “Spindle, Shuttle and Needle” and “Rumpelstiltskin” to “Briar Rose”. The ensemble has indeed spun straw into gold, as seen in the gorgeous artwork of Anna Higgie.
Cello, violin, accordian/piano and vibraphone/marimba is a slightly unusual setup, but Spindle Ensemble is a slightly unusual quartet. These recordings are vibrant, but they also have an edge, which is what made BEA our pick of the season in last month’s Winter Music Preview. To experience the ensemble at its best, we recommend checking out last winter’s video session, in which the precision of the players in on display, as well as their reverence for the music of composer/pianist Daniel Inzani.
The performance exudes warmth and shelter, but also ~ in the happy mallets of Harriet Riley ~ exuberance. In her hands, “Panic Among the Dragonflies” seems more like joy. These would be wonderful songs to lull Bea to sleep (“Sleepcloud” in particular), but they would also be wonderful songs to wake up to, to propel one into morning. It’s incredibly difficult to capture both ends of the spectrum in a single recording, but Spindle Ensemble manages the feat. The fact that this music was recorded in a converted chapel adds a layer of holiness to the proceedings, landing squarely on the right side of religion: the side of candles and creativity, storytelling and sanctuary.
The earliest composition here, “Once a Squirrel”, cements the fairy tale association. The cover image for the single displays the instruments, sans performers, on the floor of a forest. Perhaps they have been changed into residents of the animal kingdom; perhaps they are simply leaving offerings for the gods. The song is the album’s most playful, running down the tree to gather nuts, darting back up again and flirting with the possibility of coming back down. In like fashion, listening to the album is like enjoying a cache of nuts that one has stored up for winter; the hard work is apparent in the fruits of the labor. (Richard Allen)