On Ensemble | Ume in the Middle

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World: World Fusion World: World Beat Moods: Featuring Drums
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Ume in the Middle

by On Ensemble

Cinematic, beat-driven fusion of taiko, percussion, voice, turntable, throat singing, koto, shinobue and electronic effects.
Genre: World: World Fusion
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Yamasong
6:57 $0.99
2. Hisashi
3:12 $0.99
3. Waiting
4:27 $0.99
4. Hiroya vs. Miniboss
4:02 $0.99
5. Butoh-bot Malfunction
3:41 $0.99
6. After Rain
7:29 $0.99
7. Silverback
4:13 $0.99
8. Bounce Back
3:21 $0.99
9. Yamasong (Campagna Remix)
6:11 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
On Ensemble – Ume In The Middle
Official release: May 5, 2009

By fusing traditional Japanese drums, or taiko, and contemporary mediums like hip-hop, electronica, and rock, On Ensemble creates a beautiful chemistry of sound. On their second full-length studio album, Ume in the Middle, releasing May 5, 2009 on Turtlefield Music, the fusion of time-honored eastern and western components with contemporary elements offer a modern-day feel to world music that is beyond interesting.

Through continuous avant-garde musical stylings and a sense of giving back to the community, On Ensemble fortifies their sound by caring deeply about their music and their audience. The members, Masato Baba, Kristofer Bergstrom, Shoji Kameda, and Kelvin Underwood have been playing music for the majority of their lives and have studied taiko under professional groups and masters from the United States and Japan. Their experiences have helped them mold themselves and their sound into something they feel is important and meaningful.

Producer and main composer of the group, Shoji Kameda, stresses On Ensemble’s live performances and recordings as two separate art forms. “You will never recreate the experience of a live performance on an album, because you aren’t experiencing the music as it happens,” Kameda says. “You’re not there with the artist feeding off their energy. Once you record something and play it back, it becomes an echo of that experience, a facsimile, a photograph of the moment. I feel like the way to make an album come alive is to embrace the studio and recording process as part of the creative process.” Ume in the Middle, recorded in the band’s small Silverlake studio, was approached in this manner and the product is a vibrant recording full of life.

The song “After Rain” is one of On Ensemble’s signature pieces that they often perform live. “It has Japanese music elements with the fue (bamboo flute) melody in the beginning along with throat singing,” says Kameda. Throat singing, or overtone, is a particular style of singing in which the voice is able to generate two or more notes at the same time. These techniques are found all throughout central Asia; the most famous is the Tuvan style. “After Rain” is also driven by Underwood’s playing on the drum kit in 5/4, a non-standard time signature, and Kameda’s use of effects on some of the koto (Japanese stringed instrument) parts to get a guitar-esque sound, as well as a gated vocal effect. Combine that with Baba’s vocals at the end to give a rock tinge, and a riqq solo (traditional Arabic tambourine) at the end by the band’s good friend and frequent collaborator, Patrick Graham, and you have a highly developed song representative of the On Ensemble sound.

While On Ensemble revolves heavily around the rhythmic melody of the Japanese drums, they cite contemporary jazz composer and Japanese harp player June Kuramoto, hand percussionist Patrick Graham, pianist/composer Kimo Cornwell, as well as jazz groups Esborn Svensson Trio, The Bad Plus, and Cinematic Orchestra among their influences. Sigur Ros, Mum, Mouse and Mars, Balinese Gamelan and overtone singing from Central Asia also find their way into the On Ensemble sound. The group has managed to gain a lot of knowledge about their music and genre, but is constantly trying to perfect it. On Ensemble is a band that is very conscious of trying to push boundaries within their art form, and are constantly learning and incorporating new ideas and elements into their music.

Press Quotes:
“Their work combines 21st century experimental sound with centuries-old Noh and Kabuki music… With the combination of ancient drum rhythm and the scratching on a turntable, the piece was a mix of old and new that took one from a primeval place to a contemporary dance floor. The combination was a great mix, technically precise, and the unique sound was delightful to hear.”
The Beat Goes On at the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival
Brenda Knepper, AllAboutJazz, October 19, 2005

“One of the most innovative and musically fresh groups ever to take the stage... a very talented and unique group with the guts to take a centuries old art form to another level.”
Taking Taiko and Cerritos to Another Level
Glen Creason, CerritosInk, March 5, 2007

“… a bit like progressive rocker Beck in that way, taking a familiar sound and reinterpreting it for a new generation.”
Taiko In Transition
Alex Isao Herbach, Staff Writer, Rafu Shimpo - Los Angeles Japanese Daily News, Friday June 29, 2007

CD Reviews for "Ume in the Middle":
"On Ensemble is a rarity in the realms of popular music; they are wholly original."
Wildy's World, April 17, 2009

"On Ensemble pulls traditional Japanese music up by its roots and replants it in rich soil, fertilized by modern style and sensibility."
Purple Sky, April 27, 2009

"Truly interesting and innovative stuff. On Ensemble is the quartet consisting of Masato Baba, Kristofer Bergstrom, Shoji Kameda, and Kelvin Underwood. These four individuals are heavily integrated into the world of music with hefty connections as far as the arm can reach. They are well-respected teachers, workshop leaders, and composers as well as performers. Ume In The Middle is a beautifully packaged album featuring a die cut front insert as well as a clear plastic sleeve that caresses the jewel case. The exquisite packaging is a perfect fit for the music contained within. Ume features nine tracks full of boundless imagination. Some of the tracks are surprisingly accessible while others are rather progressive and spontaneous. Instead of going for one style or sound, these folks apparently just let their imagination run wild. The results...are intriguing and strangely hypnotic. Our favorite cuts include "Yamasong," "Hiroya vs. Miniboxx," and "Bounce Back." After hearing too many generic pop bands, this one comes across like a cool blast of fresh air... (Rating: 5+)"
babysue magazine review staff, babysue.com, April 2009

"The Los Angeles band (On Ensemble) is actually a taiko group that plays the traditional Japanese drumming style (as well as throat singing and bamboo flute) at a high level of musicianship and mixes it with current sounds and styles, like DJ scratching and crazy syncopation. The results are noisy and arty, with sounds that range from meditative to happy, and resemble electro-tinged theater soundtrack music. I particularly like the fast-paced electronic cut, "Hiroya vs. Miniboss".
Eric Nakamura, Editor, Giant Robot Magazine issue 59, May 2009



to write a review

Ayumi Pantell

I love this album. On Ensemble makes music you can feel and it's a range of feeling. "Yamasong" puts me a little on edge but then there's relief, "Hisashi" makes me wistful and and reflective, "Waiting" feels like sweet ancipation of happiness, and "After Rain" makes me hopeful and relaxed. That's just to name a few.

J-F Gravel

Simply amazing!
I have been a fan of On Ensemble for many years and I just love to see their fantastic evolution. This album surprised me with more electronica than I expected but I am happily surprised. I find the recording, mastering and mixing of this album is near perfect. It is the kind of album you can listen from beginning to end without wanting to skip a song. It just flows beautifully. Great to see contribution from Patrick and Kaoru! Everyone in On Ensemble should be proud of that album.

So when I are you coming to Montreal next? ;)

Deborah Laux

Ume in the Middle
Amazing musicians. I love to listen to this when I am making art. It's eclectic, unique, uplifting. En Ensemble members are high-level musicians. You should see them in concert!