On his latest album, Michel Banabila “uproots” concepts of the orchestra. Marc Weidenbaum’s liner notes ask “What if ‘orchestral’ referred to what we heard, not how it was recorded?” These tracks are indeed orchestral, but they have been plucked from their original soil and replanted.
Banabila invited a number of friends to participate in the recording process, among them Stijn Hüwels (who seems to appear on every album this season), Gareth Davis and Oene van Geel. He then recorded the guest improvisations on instruments such as the bass clarinet, viola and cello, then took the raw material back to his greenhouse, where he extracted the seeds. After this, he began to water them with electronics, pruning them as they developed, shaping them into the healthy plants they are today. To the ear, these compositions seem as if they could be live; and they certainly don’t seem like improvisations. While their forms are fixed, it’s conceivable that a live orchestra could offer stirring renditions.
We’re used to hearing Banabila as a more restrained performer, floating gently in the ambient arena. The meditative “Collector” is the best bridge to the larger body of Banabila’s work. But he seems to be energized by this new compositional approach. “Breaking Point” is embedded in light electronic soil, atop which the bass clarinet plays. Correction ~ the sample plays. It’s easy to get distracted and forget, a testament to the seamlessness of Banabila’s splices. That is, until the burst of sound at its center ~ like a plant breaking through the earth. After this, the track reaches a “new normal” of stasis.
When the guitar is added to the peaceful “Breathe,” the tone turns temporarily to jazz. But the bulk of the album falls into the category it claims. At certain times, Banabila approaches a timbre of joy, most notably on lead track “Dragonfly.” This piece swiftly develops a head-nodding tempo, only temporarily restrained by plaintive piano. The track teases the listener like the arrival of warmth, approaching and retreating, imitating mild days followed by frost, steadily moving toward the season of the dragonfly. Once the strings enter in earnest, a minute before the end, the song sings of spring. The composer is having fun, cherry-picking the happiest snippets to loop and layer. It’s easy to imagine Banabila as this new creation, emerging from the larva and testing his wings under the encouraging April sun. (Richard Allen)