ALBUM REVIEW: Quest Ensemble – ‘The Other Side’

 THE TRIO of pianist Filipe Sousa, cellist Tara Franks and violinist Preetha Narayanan, who record as Quest Ensemble, are far from your vanilla classical trio. Drawing on backgrounds in which they individually explored western and Indian classical, jazz and improvisational technique, and all alumni of the Guildhall School of Music, they have brought these multidisciplinary textures to bear on their second LP, The Other Side, out now.

The album slides in on the tonic of “Moments”: strings exclaim, pause, flow again. A piano is struck softly, as if overheard; more post-rock dronescape feedback and textures rise.

“Pendulum” swings with folk tradition in its blood. Alfred Bax’s spirit lurks. It’s at once the sweetest and transporting of classical movements, but it brings to mind downland and windblown grasses. It’s as much a melody for Cecil Sharp House as any conservatoire; “Drops” is impressionistic, spacious, unfolding. Strings slur; the piano hovers on the edge of dischordancy. Thunderheads gather. The piano rains in gentle arpeggio as the strings diminish.

“The Boatman” is at once imbued with a real British folk lilt and tradition, and yet mounts forward on a more experimental, Steve Reich-style insistence of tone. 

My personal favourite is “Pedal Down”, in which a piano paces with some of the insistence of early Alice Coltrane, and strings swirl and pirouette. You can see the hazed grasslands through the rain-spattered window of the car, the white line leading ever on. Actually, this would be a gorgeous driving album. 

Quest Ensemble’s second set won’t rush at you and grab you by the lapels, air-kissing. It’s much more likely to tilt an eyebrow and smile warmly. You know who you’re going to have the more rewarding evening with in the long run.

Quest Ensemble’s The Other Side is available now in digital and highly limited vinyl formats at the trio’s Bandcamp page.

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