Blackholes and Modulations is the second album from the Ephemera Quartet, an Australian ensemble led by composer Keyna Wilkins (piano/flute) with Elsen Price (double bass/loop pedal), Will Gilbert (trumpet) and Carl St Jacques (viola). Space is a major preoccupation for the group, whose semi-improvised works explore celestial landscapes, pulsars, craters, planetary atmospheres, stars, sun and, yes, black holes. Apollo Mission incorporates open-source NASA recordings; other tracks include audio from space missions and electromagnetic waves from planets and stars compiled by Paul Francis, Professor of Astronomy at Australian National University.

Ephemera Quartet

There is a long tradition of space-influenced exploratory improvisations in both jazz and progressive rock; western classical music also has had plenty of space-focussed moments. The Ephemera Quartet clearly draws on these antecedents, most successfully with Star Trance, a beautifully ephemeral piece featuring interplay between shimmering electronics and modal flute lines that is sophisticated and compelling. After weaving its way into the synapses, this standout track seems to leave as mysteriously as it appeared. Erratic Orbit inhabits similar territory but with expanded instrumentation and greater movement that produces vivid, colourful results. Mercury Vista is also noteworthy, an extended minimalist solo double-bass workout by Elsen Price that enters interesting territory and really does feel like an exploration of planetary surfaces. 

Wilkins’ flute playing is particularly fine throughout, nuanced and thoughtful. It would be great to see what this young quartet might come up with by pushing their ideas further, as they have done on the aforementioned tracks. The recording is terrific, rich, pulsating and reverberant. 

Listen on Apple Music.

Composer/Title: Ephemera Quartet
Work(s): Blackholes and Modulations
Performer(s): Ephemera Quartet

Sign up to the Limelight newsletter