John Puchiele Ensemble - CHANGE (Album Review)

By way of Toronto, John Puchiele has been purveying carefully composed and cinematic music for four decades. His fifth album, CHANGE, features ambient and orchestral works and is at times thoroughly relaxing while at other thrillingly odd. Working in areas like film, television, and dance has flavoured his music with an ear for colourful environments and the aquatic movements of barless, floating notes. A concept album based on themes of climate change, the seven tracks clock in at forty minutes, yet an economical hand is evident as none of the elements ever feel a waste, though at times they do a tad recycled. 

"Burning Winds" opens the album with cosmic breezes of synthesizer and lush tones coming in and out of the periphery. For straightforward minimal music, this ambient track introduces an album that, like its title suggests, is full of change. "Level Rise" sees Puchiele draw vivid pictures of peaceful though foreign planes of existence, a sci-fi hinterland marked by exotic chords and moody synths in the vein of Harold Budd. The most serene "An Alternate Green World" is perhaps the highlight, with its super selective and deftly measured application of swirling sounds. The track never hits upon Puchiele's darker intentions and is unchallengingly beauteous from start to finish. 

"Stages (i-Before iii-Now iii-After)" can be seen as a direct inspiration from Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians", with its syncopated rhythms and phased delay. Yet Puchiele takes drastic and horrifying turns to demonic organ music, returning from discomforting notes to ebullience with tension-and-release clarity. This track acts as a triptych of rhythms, sound, and harmony. The sequential element of this piece reinforces the album's theme of climate change, as is the case with the shapeshifting "Time's Up", a tribal and rhythmically intense harbinger for catastrophes to come. Similar sentiments are echoed in the electrifyingly nail-biting polyrhythmic notes of "Ecology Adrift", which, though ambient, are chaotically arranged in the frenetic energy of an ecosystem in disarray. "Water Blue" reminds the listener of the quiet side of nature, the calm after the storm, the balance nature invariably finds, and the beauty of reflection. 

CHANGE by John Puchiele Ensemble is a spiritous and engaging suite that admirably meets the weight of his subject matter with music that is layered in tension and an appreciation for the beauty of a world in decay.