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(58:24, AltRock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Roque 5:54 2. Ade I 1:03 3. Past 5:31 4. Ade II 1:33 5. Noise 11:46 6. Ade III 1:17 7. Naise 10:54 8. Ade IV 2:31 9. Tissim 5:40 10. Aila 8:12 11. Forte 3:08 12. PS 0:56 LINEUP: Joris Vanvinckenroye – double bass Stijn Denys – ac. guitar Jana Arns – flute Marjolein Cools – accordion Liesbeth Lambrecht – violins With: Dave Kerman – drums, percussion Pierre Chevalier – piano Stefan Wellens – viola
Prolusion. ARANIS, from Belgium, is yet another ‘foreign’ outfit to join the multi-national family of artists who are based on Italy’s AltrOck Records. “Roqueforte” is the band’s fourth outing, but is my introduction to their work, albeit I’m in the know that some of their previous albums came from the precincts of the oldest avant-garde recording company, Cuneiform Records. Finally, I think it’s worth mentioning that Aranis is led by the talented bassist Joris Vanvinckenroye, who composed all twelve of the tracks that the CD consists of.
Analysis. Belgium’s RIO and related artists are very frequently compared with Univers Zero, which, I think, is erroneous in many-to-most cases. Of course, the term Belgian chamber rock school has appeared thanks to the work of the country’s most legendary as well as influential band, but the movement itself embraces dozens of ensembles, plenty of which have quite a unique vision of the matter, some of those (take Finnegans Wake as an example) changing their style from album to album. Aranis also plays music that is on the one hand fairly typical of the ‘school’, but is obviously original on the other. Emotionally, it lies outside the light part of the corresponding sphere, and yet it is by far not as gloomy as Univers Zero’s, and in addition doesn’t have any jazz feeling. All in all, I believe classic Art Zoyd would be a better reference point, especially as regards the semi-epics Noise and Naise, and also Ade IV, all of which are full-fledged pieces of neoclassical music, using either few or no percussion instruments at all – think the first two of the tracks and the third one respectively. However, there are also some Eastern and Southern European folksy motifs on these as well as all the other full-blown compositions, and when those appear, entwined with the pieces’ basic textures, two more ensembles come to mind, L’Ensemble Raye and Hamster Theatre. The album nominally features eight performers, almost all of whom play chamber and related instruments (Joris’s double bass often sounding like a contrabass), so I was sure, say, from the outset that it contained chamber music in its pure form, too. By the way, both the legendary musicians, Pierre Chevalier (Present, Univers Zero) on piano and Dave Kerman (Present, Thinking Plague, et al) on drums and percussion have very solidly contributed to it; I’d say a bit heavier than even some of the band’s official members did. On Roque, Past and Aila the ensemble performs either RIO-ish Chamber Rock with the above folk-like motifs in places or neoclassical music (not to be confused with Dodecaphony, i.e. with avant-garde academic music of the second half of the last century), while on Tissim, Forte and PS it brings the two basic styles together and does eliminate the border between them. Dave is positively active on these tracks. Playing most of the time on the first three of them and throughout the others, he in all cases considerably less frequently uses the drums in a bombastic rock manner than as percussive accents in orchestral music. (Thus still, or rather traditionally, he appears as one of the most intelligent battery commanders on the contemporary progressive rock scene). All of the described compositions are excellent, striking for their inventive use of harmony and dynamics and more. Only the three 1-minute cuts, Ade-I, -II & -III, leave a mixed impression. Featuring only two instruments, one of which monotonously buzzes throughout, each of these comes across as an attempt to unite two incompatible styles, electronic and classical music.
Conclusion. Most of the music on “Roqueforte” is truly astonishing. The album comes highly recommended to all ‘serious’ progressive music lovers and, at the same time, makes his way into our personal chart of 2010. Be sure, it would have taken a somewhat higher position there if the sketches had not been included. This long, lasting for nearly one hour, recording would have lost nothing without them, to say the least.
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