The artist’s first two albums under the Superpoze moniker were electronic, achieving much acclaim in the French music scene, and leading to lengthy tours and work as a producer and soundtrack composer. When existing fans first listen to new album Nova Cardinale, they will immediately be confronted with a novel aural landscape: the first track “Air” is dominated by traditional wind instruments, opening with quiet flute trills and swiftly joined by organ and dulcian, the renaissance predecessor to the modern bassoon. Similarly, the next track in the opening triptych, “Parabel”, opens with a beautiful piano ostinato with subtle drums, the instrumentation gradually swelling to include glockenspiel and ‘cello. As the texture thickens to its first climax, electronics begin to intrude, but an abrupt ‘cello thrash dispels the momentum. The piano ripples; the music settles into a period of undulating stasis. When the ‘cello returns, the texture begins to build again, and when the opening piano ostinato comes back we begin climbing towards another climax, ‘cello and synth combining at the drop. The third and final track of this opening triptych, “A Ballet Of Life And Death” is led by strings, the ‘cello joined now by the viol, another renaissance instrument. This sets the tone for an album in which traditional instruments are dominant and electronics, by contrast, serve only to complement.
“Geneva”, one of the singles, combines all the instruments introduced in the first three tracks with wordless vocals singing a curiously catchy earworm of a melody. The piece flits between simple and compound time, the strings playing a rocking triplet figure that weaves its way into the simple-time eighth notes of the other instruments. The track ends abruptly, almost without resolving, the pace cut off, the final pianissimo chord segueing immediately into “Avril, Mai”, the next track, which is a work of two halves: the rocking piano motif that opens it functioning as an answer to the string motif of the previous track. The track builds and builds, the texture thickening, until just after the halfway point where the piece takes off, fluttering piano and airy flutes creating an exhilarating sense of rushing wind.
Legeleux writes in the liner notes that the album was “conceived as a world rather than a story. A place made of sounds in which one can find a path, get lost or stay still and observe the surroundings. An album in which the tracks live on a grand scale, ranging from intimacy to emphasis. An album with perspective and vanishing points.” The idea that the album can be understood in multiple ways, from multiple viewpoints, is revealing. If one perspective of the album is to consider it as a dialogue between modern electronic and traditional instruments, another is to view it as the composer stretching himself, pushing himself to experiment with broader forces and, in doing so, relinquishing some control by allowing other musicians to perform his music. There is a lengthy credit list in the liner notes. The album’s moments of intimacy, for example the brief “Varaville” or the opening track “Air”, lead into pieces with larger forces like, respectively “To Build A Fire” and “Parabel”. The eighth track, “Cardinal Point” has it all, beginning with a moment of extreme intimacy played by solo piano with near-silent string harmonics, until string swells penetrate, reminding us of the potential for more. Sure enough, just a few bars later, the piece begins to build to its full textural richness.
If there’s one curiosity in Nova Cardinale, it’s the final track, “Song for Abel”. The title of the previous track, “Coda”, clearly implies an ending and a resolution, and indeed features a return to the music of the opening trilogy of pieces. “Song for Abel”, by contrast, introduces completely new musical material and is written in a harmonically distant key. Previous pieces have grown out of one another, frequently running directly into the next track and sharing a common tonal centre, but “Song for Abel” almost feels as if it doesn’t belong. It’s undeniably an utterly beautiful piece, opening with an enchanting melody for solo piano, later joined by ‘cello, Prophet 6, and more wordless vocals, but musically it almost feels like it comes from a different world. Maybe this reviewer hasn’t understood its function: could it be that “Song for Abel” is the “new cardinal” point implied by the album’s title?
In any case, Nova Cardinale is a complex and beautiful through-composed album, performed by a rich and idiosyncratic ensemble of instruments, and it serves as a fascinating snapshot of a young composer stretching himself. (Garreth Brooke)