Gerald Van Waes- okt.'10

I have listened a couple of times to this album so that I could understand the creativity behind composition a bit better.

Like the previous album, a composition builds up brilliantly and attractively in about 4 tracks. In this album this is like a classical music chamber music composition with a theme based upon a complex rhythm evolving over these sections with different accents and logical changes ending with a quiet flute led theme.

After that, the basic theme, instead of evolving immediately to a second part, is repeated again into a more minimal edition. The rhythm foundation is simplified and the musical foundation of the composition has a lighter form which is chamber-like music that turned into a more minimalist form, closer to a more popular music format. The contributions of guest drummer David Kerman are sparse, like small logical commissioned accents. On the next track the foundations then evolves further into a lyrical and swinging part, with a few leads by the, for this theme, very fitting accordion. This evolves further with happy swinging rhythmic changes, into a new interesting variation.

Only near the end the most recognisable basic core theme returns once more shortly, like a song theme reminder, to complete and finish the score. Like a bis number at a concert a hidden 12th track is added after some minute of silence, with one more variation a bit lost in time.

Avestin- okt.'10

Aranis, the Flemish ensemble led by double-bassist Joris Vanvinckenroye, keep on evolving on their fourth album, RoqueForte, released on the fantastic Italian label, Altr0ck. While the first two albums provided beautiful chamber music with strong rhythmic backbone and some folk-ish tendencies, the third album presented more ambiance as well as vocalization. In this album, they are joined four guests, Ward De Vleesschouwer (piano), Stefan Wellens (viola), Pierre Chevalier from Present and Univers Zero (piano) and Dave Kerman from 5UU's, Thinking Plague and various other projects (drums and percussions). You'd think that adding drumming to their music would change their sound dramatically, but that is not the case at all. Dave Kerman's drumming is subtle and not dominative and mingles perfectly with the rest of the instruments. In fact, it sounds as if the percussions were always a part of the band's sound.


The sound is more edgy, rough, raw and yet still as elegant as ever. They have veered into territories covered by Univers Zero and Present, i.e. a darker and more brooding style and atmosphere; but they have not lost their identity, their sound and charm. Indeed, the Aranis personality is renewed here in this extended lineup. RoqueForte shows the group in their usual punctual playing and elaborate compositions, yet with a new direction and somewhat different approach, showing their strive to evolve as a musical entity.


The music here, while as rhythmic as before, seems more intent creating delicate but ominous ambiance. Take the opening track, Roque for instance. While they don't forsake melody for texture, they do sounds as if more intent on evoking certain mysterious and eerie qualities. I think this piece presents a well thought-out and executed balance between the melodic and the textural side of Aranis. In support of this notion, I'll mention that the album contains 4 short pieces named Ade I to IV which all seem to serve the same purpose as I mentioned above.


All of this is not to say that they don't craft any more tunes. In fact, the tunes found here are still as gorgeous as ever. Take the third track, Past for instance. In it you will find faint accordion playing with the flute strolling higher above it, the two accompanied by the piano and percussions, all together painting a magical and moving piece. The dynamics of this piece are very well done; each instrument wisely set in a proper volume and all of them move together as a whole up and down, louder and weaker until a climatic end. Indeed, the Past never sounded better.


Aranis also provide us with two lengthy compositions here. While they did this before, (Zilezi from the first album), this is not a commonality for Joris to compose pieces of this length for the group. The two pieces, named Noise and Naise, are stunning pieces in their beauty and arrangements. The flute has a lead role in Noise and its delicate sound clashes with the violin creating tension, all the while supported by the menacing double bass and the accordion. In this piece we also hear perhaps the most prominent drumming section on the album (the other tracks being Naise and Tissim), but not in the way you might think; a beating on the drums, in pattern and conjuction with the double bass and piano, create the intimidating canvas for the flute, violin and accordion to paint their lines and circles. This piece is a superb example of Aranis' current sound and of how they've developed since their first album. Again, this is a good example of the balance between melody and ambiance in Aranis' music. There is not a dull moment in this piece, not a wasted note. It all comes together in an enchanting fashion to a hair-raising conclusion.


An interesting piece comes in the form of Tissim. An aggressive composition, fast and even furious sounding at times. There is a remarkable interplay between the piano providing the basic pattern and rhythm along with the drumming (which are a little below it), the accordion with its own theme and the flute playing overhead. At times it sounds harmonious only to change moments later to a chaotic-like musical battlefield, it concludes in a recurring theme being played until end while the lead instruments have their "fight".


RoqueForte is a superb offering from Aranis, another wonderful achievement from a band that seems intent on progressing their sound. If you liked Aranis' previous releases, you definitely should get this as well. If you're new to Aranis and would like to try them out, I find this is a good entry point and you could then work your way backwards. As there are a lot of nuances, quieter parts and overall many intricacies, I recommend listening attentively and on headphones.

Dave Lynch- nov.'11

Maybe bassist/composer Joris Vanvinckenroye and his Flemish "chamber rock" ensemble Aranis were afraid of being labeled "new age" after three ethereal, mysterious female voices were prominent on the group's previous CD, Songs from Mirage. Well, search in vain for a new age flavor on Aranis' fourth long-player and 2010 AltrOck label debut, RoqueForte -- gone are Mirage's vocalists, and the band's revised lineup includes violist Stefan Wellens replacing violinist Linde de Groof (violinist Liesbeth Lambrecht is still here), and Univers Zero/Present keyboardist Pierre Chevalier replacing pianist Axelle Kennes. Also on board is drummer Dave Kerman, whose particular presence might reasonably be expected to shatter Aranis' heretofore signature drummerless acoustic sound, in which incisive riffs and melodies with a Euro-classical and sometimes folkish flavor are played on strings, flute, accordion, and piano, all driven by the powerfully deep and rhythmic upright bass of Vanvinckenroye. After all, Kerman has been prominently featured in some of the most complicated and arguably "difficult" electrified rock music on record by the likes of 5uu's, Thinking Plague, and the aforementioned Present. On RoqueForte he proves to be an adept team player, attuned to the music's overall chamberesque -- and at times nearly orchestral -- feel. The centerpiece photo in the CD booklet is telling: it shows the drummer's hand poised above a cymbal, but delicately holding a pair of chopsticks rather than drumsticks. Not that his approach is that delicate: Kerman certainly punches up the accents and drive of the album's bookend tracks, the opening multi-sectioned "Roque" with its clipped, spiky phrasing and keyboard jabs, and the brief closing "Forte" (which, incidentally, includes a rather gimmicky minute and a half of silence leading into the final minute-long high-energy burst of "PS"). Elsewhere, Kerman's percussion is used quite judiciously in service to Vanvinckenroye's darkest, most complex, and most Univers Zero-ish compositions to date, with the drums and cymbals mixed low, never masking Jana Arns' flute as it dances around the long, sometimes rather mournful violin/viola lines.

In fact, Kerman contributes little or lays out completely for long passages, sometimes almost perversely absent from the music's most uptempo, insistently rhythmic passages, which increases the drama when he does appear. For example, drums do not enter fully until the latter halves of the extended-form centerpieces "Noise" and "Naise": in the former, Kerman tumbles out a methodical rhythm somewhat lacking in vitality until the tension begins to escalate and he fully joins the ensemble's truly spectacular ascending chordal buildup at the finale; in marked contrast, he offers up a nearly ska-flavored uptempo backbeat in the final minutes of the latter. On the speedy "Tissim," driven inexorably by Chevalier's rapid keyboard ostinato line, he remains low in the mix for most of the piece's duration, rising to the fore close to the end when the piece takes on a more martial character. Overall, this is the most varied Aranis music to date, with interludes of experimentation or dark stasis underpinned by Marjolein Cools' low droning accordion, not unlike the harmonium in Univers Zero's Heresie, counterbalancing the group's signature propulsion. Ultimately, although the aforementioned photo suggests that somebody thought Kerman's presence here was a really big deal and the drummer acquits himself well, he is not the singular reason that RoqueForte is arguably Aranis' finest recording thus far. Chalk that up to the entire group's playing and the uniquely beautiful and powerful compositions of Joris Vanvinckenroye, who continues to lead this stellar ensemble in new and increasingly unpredictable directions.


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