Saturday, February 3, 2018

Benji Kaplan's Chorando Sete Cores

Remember Van Dyke Parks' work with Joanna Newsom and Inara George about a decade ago? Parks' works for small orchestra at the time were so light-footed and whimsical, so extracted from a world that didn't exist any longer. Listening to Benji Kaplan's new album, Chorando Sete Cores (which translates to "Cries of the Seven-Colored Tanager"), I'm reminded of that same world--delicate, possibly borne from some forgotten corners of La Belle Epoque. It's the type of music you hear in old movies, outside of the classical canon so to speak yet still expressive in the way it allows specific instruments to reach their potential.

Guitarist Kaplan has written this, his fourth album, for a wind quintet with just four performers including himself. How does one do that? Well, through the use of musicians who are adept at swapping instruments during the course of the song. Anne Drummond, for instance, plays two flutes--alto and C. Remy Lebouef plays the clarinet and the impressive and memorable bass clarinet, which acts as the lone low-frequency anchor on the album. David Byrd-Marrow sticks with the French horn, and Kaplan sticks with his nylon-stringed acoustic guitar. This type of ensemble allows Kaplan's arrangements to thrive on endless counterpoints while maintaining a small, intimate feel.

In a nutshell, this is fanciful music that hasn't an unkind thought or a menacing note. The mood is positive and encouraging, which leaves the listener free to explore the relationships of the constant call-and-answer of the instruments and how they take turns telling the same story. This type of aural storytelling is so at odds with the music we hear every day. While most of the tracks are self-contained tales such as "A Joyful Stroll" (which is brisk since the walk takes place in New York) and "Leaves in the Wind" (self-explanatory), this is not an album about ideas and narratives. It's about feelings and textures and the celebration of beauty.

As you listen to all 13 tracks, you'll find a flow and a unity as well. It's unusual easy to keep track of that flow since the recording quality is so fantastic and clean. That allows you to consider every note, every trill, and how it contributes to a beautiful whole. Chorando Sete Cores may sound trivial if you're not truly committed to it, but if you take the time to hear these four (or five?) musicians have an enthralling conversation, you'll want to sit in.

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