New York City-based septet the Cellar and Point describe their music as "garage-chamber," but that descriptor might not do justice to the group's wide-ranging meld of styles. The band's co-leaders, drummer/producer Joseph Branciforte and guitarist Christopher Botta, draw from electronica, modern classical composition, fusion jazz, avant-prog rock, and ambient music -- to mention a mere handful of stylistic markers -- reflecting their longtime shared musical interests, educational backgrounds, and professional pursuits.
Branciforte and Botta have been friends since attending school in their hometown of Ramsey, New Jersey, where they played rock and jazz together before enrolling in Boston's Berklee College of Music, studying everything from modern composition to electronic music to record production. After Berklee, they headed to New York and began careers on both sides of the recording console, as engineers as well as musicians. The pair also began writing original music, and soon decided that their compositions should be performed by a working ensemble. In 2010 they formed the Cellar and Point, featuring Branciforte on drums and Botta on guitar, joined by a varying lineup including such contemporary classical and/or creative jazz musicians as the JACK Quartet's Christopher Otto on violin, Emily DuFour or the Mivos Quartet's Mariel Roberts on cello, TRANSIT's Joe Bergen or Claudia Quintet's Matt Moran on vibraphone, and James Ilgenfritz or Signal Ensemble's Greg Chudzik on bass. The group featuring this sextet configuration began playing at various venues in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, garnering favorable press from publications including The New York Times and Time Out New York.
Branciforte and Botta had been successful in forming the Cellar and Point as an actual working band rather than an exclusively studio-based project, the group's debut recording, Ambit, turned out to be a creature of protracted studio work, perhaps reflecting the status of the two band co-leaders as busy recording engineers with perfectionist sensibilities (Botta operates a Brooklyn-based studio named Staple Chest Audio, and Branciforte's list of producing and/or engineering clients includes the likes of Tim Berne, Ben Monder, and Mark Dresser). Production of Ambit proceeded in on-again, off-again fashion from the start of recording in February 2011 through mixing and mastering by Branciforte in early 2014, before the ambitious album finally saw release on the Cuneiform label in October of that year. Branciforte produced and -- with Botta and Andy Taub -- co-engineered the album, which featured Branciforte (on drums as well as piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Moog bass, glockenspiel, melodica, percussion, and drum loops), Botta (on acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, and guitar loops), violinist/violist Otto, and vibraphonist Bergen joined by the JACK Quartet's Kevin McFarland on cello, Terrence McManus (Gerry Hemingway Quintet) on electric guitar, and London-born, Los Angeles-based Rufus Philpot (Down to the Bone) on bass, the seven musicians ably navigating Branciforte and Botta's inventive charts and kaleidoscopic arrangements (including arrangements of compositions by Anton Webern and György Ligeti). Cellist Roberts and contrabassists Ilgenfritz and Chudzik also appeared on selected tracks.