Quickly becoming a transcendent figure in the Milwaukee music scene, Jaems Murphy’s latest project, Etherium Ensemble, claws at a certain sonic purity that will draw him notoriety that is likely unsought. Adhering thoughtful progressive rock to ambient jazz, soul and neo-soul sub genres, Etherium Ensemble took the floor for an November performance at Circle A Cafe in Riverwest.
Bestowing an uplifting and reflective set of compositions, Etherium Ensemble is a sextet containing guitar (Murphy), bass (Bob Schabb) trumpet (Brett Westfahl), drums (Demetrus Ford), vocalist (Keshena Armon), and vibraphone (Michael Neumeyer), all possessing extensive expressive proclivities.
The word that most comes to mind if I were to describe Etherium Ensemble is authentic; authentic in their intent, authentic in their commitment, and authentic in their desire to pay tribute to the all voices that contribute to Milwaukee’s creative spirit.
About that vibraphone, until Etherium Ensemble, this element is one that I have yet to see incorporated in a Milwaukee act. Mike Neumeyer does Roy Ayers proud (one of the definitive American Jazz Vibes composers), working his way end-to-end on the chimed instrument clutching two felted mallets. In the sound-scape of Etherium Ensemble, the vibes venerably takes the place of keyboard, and expands that role to offer warmer tones to the range of notes that section usually imparts.
Jaems Murphy also headlines Vedic Eden, a amorphous project leaning on alternative rock foundations. Vedic Eden was recently included in a blog post from The Examiner announcing “11 acts you may not be paying attention to…”. Go ahead and throw Etherium Ensemble on that list, and to give Jaems Murphy two spots in 2015.
An old worn monsieur hobbles forward, eccentric and slightly obsessive, gathering refuse of interest along his way. The lines in his face trace a life of difficulty, all the same to him.
Fitting of late medieval times, a woman nurses a babe coarsely, holding it by the neck to her bosom. She meets an unseen demise, her babe still clutching. A miscreant duo collects the fallen maiden leaving the babe behind, yet another castaway. Prodding along, the long-suffering worn monsieur comes upon the orphaned babe and gathers it up, to his surprise it suckles him. He carries it off, like the rest of his belongings cluttered but well-kept.
It’s dark, and the proverbial queen’s stark white face defies this fact amidst Buboe’s setting. Her face cuddled by black contrast, glowers over the stage. She has ruby red glossed and penciled lips set to pucker, her face set stone. The queen’s courtier and hunchback servant amble to their own beat, wavering, at once beheld to the queen and their own impulsiveness. The French countryside’s ‘bouffons’ scuttle around her feet, trying harder and harder to lose any purpose they might have. The queen clearly feels her grip of control slipping.
A Mystic appears keeping company with the provincial Cardinal. The Mystic walks with death following in his foots steps, the Cardinal’s comforting and pristine presence precedes false hope, two sides of the same coin. Stricken with a mysterious affliction, some locals froth visibly at the mouth, others are dying, carted off by the barrel full. Who’s dying from what is hard to tell.
Return of the Product
Shrouded in room for interpretation, a valiant rebel comes forth from a mysterious origins. The pestilence is running rampant, the stunning rebel aided by well-intentioned towns people roots out an unexpected villainy, only to be thwarted by the town miscreants who are now virtually seething ghouls. At least, that’s what I saw.
An Elegant Calamity
True to form, director Brian Rott summons unparallelled imaginative energy to give theater goers a show requiring some effort to wrap your head around. A period piece straddling medieval and renaissance France, Buboes stirs a deeply recessed portion of your consciousness.
Daring you to rely nearly exclusively on visual comprehension, Buboes elicits silent film era notions of gesture and movement, and in a more contemporary and immediate sense draws directly from the theatre tradition of Jacques Lecoq. Each of the players engage the Buboes subject matter as heavily with their eyes as they do with their bodies. Jenni Reinke in her role as the rebel, presents the epitome this technique, piercing the audience with her facial tonality, conveying a troubled detachment.
In supporting roles Ben Yela and Posy Knight similarly fill their characters with a deliberate and studied portrayals of the ‘miscreant’ and the ‘provincial queen’, melding expression and movement creating intriguing physical compositions. Giving shape to one of the queen’s court, Jessi Miller toddles about as a nimble humpback, startling with her transformation from physical ineptness to spry agility.
You might think Kirk Thomsen has the rickets in real life, given his embodiment of limb discomfort. In concert with supporting roles from Andrew Parchman (Mystic), Emma Kate (Courtier), Kristopher Xavier (Miscreant), and Raven McCaw (Cardinal), these affects lets Buboes exact an ounce of intrigue from your flesh and lance that abscess blocking the natural flow of your imagination. On par, the Quasimondo team throws in dashes of prop illusions, action scenes, and puppets to complete the magic that surrounds their performances.
Buboes is technically sound with credit to Jessi Miller (Assistant Director), Jeff Achterberg (Technical Director), Posy Knight (Set and Scenic Design), Michael Pettit (Puppet Design), Ben Yela (Lighting Design), Raven McCaw and Sarah Seefeldt (Costume Design), and Kirk Thomsen and Kristoffer Xavier (Production and Stage Management).
Buboes’ remaining runs are Saturday December 6,8, 12,and 13 at 8p, with Sunday matinees December 7 and 14 at 2pm. Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre is housed by Milwaukee Public Theatre, which has turned a former big box retail space into a cove of dramatic creation in Studio G across from the TJ Maxx in Grand Avenue Mall.