Ensemble Pieces is a fascinating early collection of four pieces by three composers, two of whom would go on to achieve considerable popularity with works far less experimental than those captured here. Christopher Hobbs, who, at age 18, had become a member of the legendary improvising group AMM, was still in his mid-twenties when he composed the two striking pieces represented herein. "Aran" is a brief, extremely colorful for reed organs, percussion, and toy pianos that manages to evoke ancient Britain and contemporary minimalism at the same time in a delightful manner. His "McCrimmon Will Never Return," for two reed organs, similarly reminds one of Scottish bagpipe music while clearly owing a debt to Terry Riley's electric organ explorations. Nonetheless, it stands on its own as an absorbing work. John Adams' "American Standard" is one of his earliest pieces and might be the first to be recorded. He uses references to certain brands of Americana (Sousa, religious hymns, and Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady") as a basis for three thoughtful and provocative excursions into aspects of minimalism rarely visited. In the second section, subtitled "Christian Zeal and Activity," he uses a found tape of a radio talk show. One can see where Brian Eno, who produced this recording, may well have gotten the seed for his 1980 collaboration with David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. At the time of this recording, Gavin Bryars was still composing works of an extreme and imaginative experimental bent and the charmingly tilted, "1, 2, 1-2-3-4" is a wonderful example. The ten performers wear headphones over which their part is played. They are to play along as well as possible but, since they cannot hear their companions and due to the vagaries of cassette machines and speeds thereof, they necessarily go out of sync, possibly out of tune as well. The result is a dreamlike piece with generally jazz-based themes where the dislocations and disjunctions seem oddly natural and proper.
AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick