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The first incarnation of Entourage was in Baltimore, MD, in 1970. Founder and musical director Joe Clark started the group as an experimental fusion of jazz, rock, folk, classical, free improvisation, and spoken word. The group’s first performances were at the Bluesette Nightclub in the 2400 block of Charles Street, which featured rock groups on a regular basis. Its owner, Art Peyton, a childhood friend of Clark’s, turned the club over to Entourage on Saturday nights, when it turned into an after hours club, starting at 1 am. Clark was based at the time in Millbrook, NY, where he was the musician in residence for the Dance Department at Bennett College. He would commute weekly to Baltimore to perform on the weekend. This first incarnation lasted a little over a year, culminating with a featured weekend slot at The Classroom, Baltimore’s premiere music room at the time. The pressures of the commute and a lack of financial support combined to effectively end this version of the group.
Clark, a saxophonist, keyboardist, and percussionist, decided to return to Millbrook full time and reform Entourage as a trio with violist and guitarist Rusty Clark (no relation) and drummer, percussionist Michael Smith, who he had met while serving as musical director for singer songwriter Bob Brown. Brown, a Maryland-DC based artist, was signed to Richie Haven’s Stormy Forest label. It was during the recording of Brown’s second album,Willoughby’s Lament, that the three musicians became acquainted. In Millbrook the trio developed the material that would become the basis for the first Folkways album, Entourage, released in 1973. The combination of instruments played by the trio resulted in a much less idiomatic sound that fused the styles of music the players brought from their background and, at the same time, blurring them into an unclassifiable, eclectic blend. The music at this point was more refined and centered on a sense of flow. It was deeply connected to dream state imagery, and it was certainly influenced by the area’s profound natural beauty as well as its prevailing sense of mystery and spiritual ambience. Clark’s involvement with modern dance began at Bennett College, and would prove to be a key component of the group’s identity and performances permanently. Shortly before the release of the first album, guitarist, keyboardist, and percussionist Wall Matthews, who had been an member of the original Baltimore group, came to Millbrook to record some of his compositions, foreshadowing what would become the most permanent ensemble over the years to come.
By 1974, Clark had relocated to New London, CT. to work for the Dance Department of Connecticut College. Matthews came east from San Francisco to rejoin the ensemble. A series of rehearsals with Smith and bassist Terry Plumeri produced a number of rich ideas, but circumstances did not allow this particular construct to crystalize and move forward. As a result the third incarnation of the group developed here when Rusty Clark returned and along with Matthews and Clark (Joe), began creating music that contained more formal elements of composition, while still retaining an improvisational feel. As the flow energy and dream state imagery became even more pronounced, a decidedly “minimalist” feeling emerged, along with elements of world music, the use of drone and impressionistic color. The rich atmospheric feeling of Millbrook had influenced the 1st album. Now the misty, watery mood that pervaded Neptune Park where the group resided, would seep into the music that would result in the 2nd album.
In the summer of 1975, the trio reconnected with Michael Smith in Silver Spring, MD., to record the group’s 2nd Folkways release, “The Neptune Collection“, with a $300 budget provided by Folkways and Moses Asch. Performances by the group at this time included modern dancers whenever possible, and after the release of The Neptune Collection, a permanent trio of dancers, Ara Fitzgerald, Laurie Cameron, and Wendy Goldman came on board. This version of the ensemble would go on to perform around the United States. After Ms. Fitzgerald would leave to pursue a solo career, Martha Moore and Cindy Alper joined the group.
In 1976, the group was commissioned by modern dance choreographer Murray Louis, to create a two hour score for the ballet Cleopatra, for The Royal Danish Ballet.
In 1977, as a result of a live performance, the group was invited to create a half hour original film for NETV in Nebraska. This resulted in A Ceremony Of Dreams and represented a pinnacle for the group. Once again the financial pressures and logistical complications of keeping the ensemble together would prove too great. Clark returned to Baltimore and the other members would go on to pursue solo careers.
The group reassembled briefly in 1978 for a series of performances in the Baltimore-Washington area. Joe Clark passed away in 1983 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Rusty Clark deceased in 1986, Michael Smith in 2006, and Terry Plumeri in 2016.
In 2003, Fourtet (Kieren Hebden) sampled “Neptune Rising” from “The Neptune Collection”. He titled his track “She Moves She” on his recording “Rounds”. After reaching a settlement with Entourage and Folkways, the track remained on the recording. There have been other remixes by other artists ongoing since then.
The group’s creative foundation was built upon Joe Clark’s strong belief in ” Collective Composition”. It was his concept that contributions made by participating members in the creation of a musical piece, whether in reaction to a “theme” written by one of the composers, or, through the process of the group’s improvisations resulting in an original composition, were all part of the resulting compositions. Hence the crediting of compositions as “Collectively Composed” by the group, or “Collectively Composed, theme by_____”, became the standard crediting notation. This applied to the choreographic work of the dancers as well. This was not without controversy and over time, the more traditional standard of compositional crediting became the norm.
Along with the eclectic musical backgrounds of the members, there was also a wide range of extramusical influences that combined to make the sound of Entourage so unique. Astrology and the writings of Dane Rudhyar played a large role, particularly his book The Sabian Symbols, An Astrological Mandala. The composition “Nature Spirits” for example, was directly inspired by it.
Creating a “flow music” that was both humanistic and imagistic, the group strove to unite the external natural world with the inner world of the individual.