Album of the Week: Madre Vaca, ‘Knights of the Round Table’

Drummer/composer Benjamin Shorstein and his Madre Vaca ensemble reinterpret the legend of King Arthur with members of his Madre Vaca ensemble on his new album, Knights of the Round Table.

Benjamin Shorstein is a highly acclaimed jazz drummer and classically trained composer. His compositions have graced prestigious events like the New York Musical Theatre Festival, resonated in the world of film and enriched numerous live performances and studio recordings. Over the years, he has also collaborated with such celebrated artists as Chick Corea, Alphonso Horne, Jamison Horne and many more. Shorstein is also known as the founder of the Madre Vaca ensemble, a creative collective that assembles some of the leading jazz talents from Jacksonville, Florida.

Together, these musicians have explored a wide range of concepts and music, from ancient songs to psychedelic operas, while championing improvisation, composition and inventive arrangements. For instance, one of Madre Vaca’s most notable previous releases was Winterreise (2020), which used music from Franz Schubert to draw a complex and varied study while using many different types of ensembles. A statement on their official website declares: “Out of sound, they weave fantasies, nightmares, seductions and hallucinations.”

His latest magnum opus, Knights of the Round Table, released on November 21 via Madre Vaca Records, is a remarkable achievement. In this album, Shorstein collaborates with eleven of his Madre Vaca comrades to craft a sonic tapestry that seamlessly melds diverse influences with the mystical and enchanting elements of the ancient legend of King Arthur and his realm of England. This ten-part suite is an exercise in exceptional storytelling, paying imaginative homage to pivotal characters, elements and actions from the renowned saga.

From the haunting jazz waltz of “The Lady of the Lake” to the dramatic unfolding of “Excalibur” and the celebratory title track, with impressive solos, the album conjures the essence of Camelot and includes such other highlights as the tender ballad “Guinevere” and the vividly exhilarating “Lancelot.” Shorstein’s Knights of the Round Table traverses a wide range of emotions, masterfully intertwining elements of romance, drama, adventure and fantasy with resounding force, bearing testament to the exceptional virtuosity of his Madre Vaca ensemble and his own visionary prowess.

Benjamin Shorstein’s Knights of the Round Table was released on November 21 via Madre Vaca Records. Order it here.

Featured photo courtesy of the artist.

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