Music Reviews

Artist: Orchard
Title: Serendipity
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Ici d’ailleurs
Orchard are the experimental, avantgarde equivalent of a manufactured boy band. Stéphane Grégoire arranged to bring together four musicians who didn’t know each other either personally or professionally, given the theme of ‘the orchard’, and left in a room to improvise. And yet the result is a piece of confident, assured, leisurely, mellow instrumental soundscaping that sounds like it’s been generated either by one mind or by performers who’ve been working together for many years.

Rich, slow string notes meander gently. Soft drum patterns drift in and out of audibility. Gentle and organic grooves with an unfamiliar quietness form and then disperse almost absent-mindedly. A clarinet toys with melodic ideas, repeating short note patterns then abandoning them, sometimes working alongside the drums and forming something faintly Eastern-sounding. The third track introduces an approach that then gentle infuses the rest of the work- an electronic processing and re-processing openness which sprinkles extra details onto the performance. With some short echoing samples there’s just a very subtle hint of early 1990’s ambient chillout flavour, as though it’s a natural progression from that to this ‘properly’ instrumented work two and a half decades later.

After the especially mellow four-part piece “A Day Staring At Eternity”, second work “Drawn With The Wind”, again in four parts, has a more cinematic and tension feeling to it, thanks predominantly to the rumbling drums towards the start, and the more electronic-sounding slow kicks towards the end. If this is a musical representation of an orchard, then somewhere outside the orchard is a distant threat, it seems.

Third piece “After All The Sun Is Awakening” is a single-part 21-minute work which starts with shades of trip-hop before broadening out into an expansive and open landscape. This isn’t so much an orchard as an invocation of the Great Plains of the US, largely barren yet beautiful.

The album is wrapped up by two shorter pieces, “Fructification” which is a simple and laidback jazzy groove that deteriorates into some kind of rabid bird attack, and “We Host You” which is a gently pulsing affair of string and soft bass with a calming clockwork feel that wraps up proceedings warmly.

It’s hard to believe from “Serendipity” that the performers had only just met. The level of accomplished and assured performance in this smooth work is exemplary, and it really stands out as one of the highest quality downtempo listening experiences I’ve encountered recently.

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