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About Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble

The Entourage Music & Theatre Ensemble was a visionary group of musicians and dancers from Baltimore, Maryland. Though they likely had no idea, they were musical contemporaries of LaMonte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, Terry Riley, Oregon, Harold Budd, Steve Reich, John Cale, and Brian Eno. The group developed a musical style based on the flow of energy and the dream state experience. They employed long, improvised acoustics and later, electronic works. While they performed as a unit, their music was often used as live accompaniment for avant-garde theater and dance troupes.

The outfit was founded in 1970 by musical director, saxophonist, and pianist Joe Clark, a conservatory-trained musician who had played in the U.S. Navy Band with Wayne Shorter. Clark held the Saturday after-hours slot at the Bluesette Nightclub, where he played an RMI Electra-piano in addition to black lacquer soprano and sopranino saxophones. He presided over an ensemble that included guitarist Wall Matthews, whose work was equally influenced by folk and jazz à la Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, a rock rhythm section, a self-taught conguero, a street poet, and a second pianist who also wailed/sang. Clark was also musician-in-residence for the Dance Department of Bennett College in Millbrook, New York. Eventually, the strain of commuting ended the first incarnation of Entourage.

While in Millbrook, Clark assembled a trio that included violinist and guitarist Rusty Clark and jazz drummer Michael "Smitty" Smith, the latter had played with Mose Allison, Steve Kuhn, and bassist Terry Plumeri. This ensemble recorded the first of their two albums for Moses Asch's Folkways label with 1973's Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble.

On his own, Matthews had written several pieces he hoped to record, and he wanted Joe Clark for the sessions. Clark agreed and brought some of the recordings that would end up on that first album, including "Piece for E-flat Soprano Saxophone, Guitar, and Thumb Piano," with Rusty Clark on guitar. Shortly after the debut album was completed, Clark had an idea for yet another version of Entourage, conceived when he relocated to New London, Connecticut to accept a teaching job at Connecticut College.

The Entourage Music & Theater Ensemble created a free, fluid, often dark-droning precursor to ambient music. Joe Clark's vision encouraged and included artists of diverse personal and musical backgrounds; he allowed them free play within the collaborative ensemble experience. In its infancy, the group's sound was chaotic and kinetic: It was music that challenged audiences and players alike. But as personnel shifted, the music matured into a nearly seamless musical flow that reflected the shared inspirations of nature, physical movement (dance), and an undefined but unmistakable spirituality. Entourage developed an approach steeped in jazz, folk, blues, classical, and world music roots, but freed of most of its identifiable elements. The group's performances also included dancer/choreographers. Combining music and dance was purposeful -- it intended to create an immersive dream state for listeners.

In New London, Rusty Clark and Matthews were sharing an apartment and working on the music that would become the group's second album, The Neptune Collection. Its most famous track, "Neptune Rising," was composed during this time. It was sampled by Kieran Hebden for Four Tet's 2003 single "She Moves She." Hebden's sample was initially uncleared, but not for lack of trying. Matthews discovered its use from Laurie Cameron, who danced with the Entourage Music & Theatre Ensemble between 1976 and 1978. She'd recognized it when one of her students used Four Tet's single in a performance. The copyright settlement netted Entourage more money than any of the group's original recordings.

Joe Clark went back to Asch and Folkways in 1975. The label boss offered a budget of $300 for a second Entourage album -- The Neptune Collection. Performances by the group often included modern dancers. After the second album's release, a permanent trio of dancers, Ara Fitzgerald, Cameron, and Wendy Goldman were recruited. This version of Entourage performed across the United States. Shortly after the tour's completion, Fitzgerald left to pursue a solo career, and Martha Moore and Cindy Alper joined the group. Based on the strength of their recordings, choreographer Murray Louis commissioned Entourage to compose a score for the Royal Danish Ballet's production of a new version of Cleopatra. Entourage utilized electronics and a large variety of percussion instruments to create music that was darker and more atmospheric than anything they'd done before. In 1977, the Entourage Music & Theatre Ensemble were commissioned to create a series of works commemorating the Bicentennial Highway in Nebraska. That event was made into a half-hour film for NETV called A Ceremony of Dreams with an accompanying soundtrack. While they carried on for a time afterwards, the group informally called it quits. It was officially over when Joe Clark died of pancreatic cancer in 1983. Rusty Clark was killed in an auto accident three years later. Michael Smith was also claimed by cancer in 2006, while former bassist Plumeri was murdered during a home invasion in 2016. Matthews is the lone remaining founding member of the Entourage Music & Theatre Ensemble; he is the group's historian and legacy holder. In 2018, he teamed with Josh Rosenthal's Tompkins Square label to collate a three-CD/one-LP box set entitled Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams, that presented the group's recordings outside their two Folkways albums. ~ Thom Jurek

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