Under the Arp moniker, producer/songwriter Alexis Georgopoulos has dabbled in minimal electronics, cinematically spacy synth meditations, and even Eno-worshipping art pop. His 2018 album Zebra explored new stylistic territory, the entirely instrumental set of songs dipping its toes in cosmic jazz, playful electronic pop, and interplay between spare synth funk and processed woodwinds. After acting as composer/conductor for Zebra, Georgopoulos assembled a band which included some of his album collaborators for several live dates, and after those went well, took the band into the studio to record the new configuration live. Recording without overdubs, and doing no more than three takes of any song, Ensemble Live captures the shifting sound of the material. In addition to reworkings of Zebra highlights like the lilting "Nzuku," the band also play four new compositions. These new songs include the tense conversation between percussion and processed electronics on "Voices" and the free-floating "Eos." On both "Eos" and a markedly reworked version of Zebra's "Reading a Wave," David Lackner's processed saxophones take center stage. Layers of natural reverb and artificial electronic delay take turns repeating his clusters of notes, pushing the spare tunes into places of mystery, confusion, and bliss. While some songs hover in funkier territory, the strongest material on this mini-album comes when Lackner's spirited playing interacts with Georgopoulos' more spacious compositions. Not unlike the hovering spirituality of Alice Coltrane or the more playful moments of the ECM Records catalog, these songs are curious, kind, and open to explore. The live rendering of Georgopoulos' work shape-shifts to the point where Ensemble Live takes on a life of its own outside the original material, breathing new life into already excellent songs as they wander farther out.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas