Green Plum Ensemble - The Heavenly Music

July 21st:  Release Show + BBQ at People’s Music Supply in Philly!

Green Plum Ensemble is a six-piece+- freestyle drone and lamentation band from Philadelphia. We make ritual and conversational music composed collectively in performance. Our members bridge worlds of experience – in singing groups, temples, communes and noise bands – and trans-continental musical continua including free jazz, Jewish liturgical music and Georgian polyphony. Our special focus is on traditions of collective grief and ecstasy. Above all, we are a group of friends brought together by an interest in music’s oldest powers.

"The main ground rules are that we play slow and wild. It’s an outlet for feeling the pain of the world, plus the joy and absurdity of living on it."

The band was formed by Jack Braunstein on clarinet with married couple Jessica Brown and Aaron Pond on dual french horns in 2019. Gradually the group added to this unusual instrumentation its signature and most beguiling element, a trio of experimental vocalists recruited from different corners of the city’s richly fertile music community. The vocalists–Shaina, Leah and Katherine–come from very different musical backgrounds but originally met singing wild polyphonic tunes together in Phialdelphia’s legendary Philadelphia Women’s Slavic Ensemble (now known as Sing Slavic). They are united here by their love of both global folk-song traditions and boundary-pushing vocalists like Joan LaBarbara and Meredith Monk. The line-up has since shifted forms between almost every show: this recording represents an expanded line-up featuring Sylvia Winch on trombone and Thomas Patteson on alto, two rising players associated with the People’s Music Supply free improv collective.

The music is collective improvisation, but over the years the group has cultivated a certain ‘plum vibe’. "The idea of ‘green plums’ being that a player can join up at any stage in their evolution and make beautiful music if everyone focuses their energy on the same area of expression. Like making wine and pickles out of unripe plums, a callback to Georgian and Japanese culture, two big influences in our playing. This music exists at the overlap of collective experimental music and collective folk music traditions, where those become the same thing. The focus is on the practice of playing itself...always messy, sometimes very ugly and sometimes transcendent."

This album is a collection of recordings from small shows and living room sessions recorded live with no overdubs. The opening track is a wild set from a show set up by Sam (Post Moves) at Brickbat Books in South Philly. Jack’s grandmother grew up right around the corner in an upholstery shop across from Famous Fourth Street Deli, when it used to be a historically slummy Jewish neighborhood known as Fabric Row or ‘Der Ferder’ (the Fourth) in Yiddish.

Side B was recorded by Chris Madak (aka Bee Mask) at Shaina’s house in Southwest Philly and shows the band moving into experiments with collectively coordinated arrangment. ‘Cool of the Day’ is the band’s interpretation of a folk song by Jean Ritchie, with a collectively coordinated structure designed to make space for different kinds of expression in each rendition of the tune. Mourning and grief loom large in the band’s practice, and this tune speaks as a lamentation for the sorry state of today’s world.

“This is a special song to us as an environmental and social prayer for this earth. For us, it speaks to the pain of ongoing conflicts and as a local response to the ongoing destruction of the Meadows at FDR Park, a valued wild space that grew out of an abandoned golf course in South Philly. This area is currently being bulldozed to make practice fields for Philly’s upcoming participation in the World Cup.”

The last cut, ‘Human Speech’ is an excerpt of one of the unhinged moments of the improvisations captured photo-realistically by Madak, showing a completely different side of this mystifying band in action.