Album of the Week: Under the Reefs Orchestra ― S/T

Album of the Week returns with a look at the staggering debut from Under the Reefs Orchestra.
By    June 11, 2020

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Will Schube is a 21st century schizoid man.

Deep in the underbelly of Belgium’s jazz scene lies Under the Reefs Orchestra, a trio of musicians who concoct the sort of music that is perfectly encapsulated in their name. These are funeral dirges for the barely dead, a shot of life for comatose cowboys. The bass is omnipresent, this is heavy music. It emerges from caverns, already formed and equal parts terrifying and enchanting. It’s a siren song from the land of french fries and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Their self-titled debut is as mesmerizing as it is aggressive. Tones come and go but the brooding timber of the sharp guitar chords and a saxophone lasts forever. The sax, by the way, is so guttural that it sounds more like the final moans of an injured animal than the instrument Coltrane turned into a revolutionary weapon.

The band, consisting of Clement Nourry, Louis Evrard, and Marti Melia boast obvious influences: there are heavy doses of psych-noise on opener “Une île” and threads of jazz scattered throughout. “Sumo” produces an immediate thizz face with its unrelentingly head-nodding interplay of guitar, saxophone, and drums. Under the Reefs Orchestra began as the solo project of Nourry―who plays guitar―but quickly evolved into what the group describes as a power trio. Powerful does little justice. This music can throw punches with the best of heavy metal.

Occasionally, a yelping voice rises in the mix, just to remind us that the ghost of Keith Jarrett remains omnipresent. In the past, European jazz tended to play more loosely with psychedelic rock than traditional American jazz, but the group’s wild concoction of krautrock, minimalism, and hip-hop-inspired rhythms fits nicely alongside stateside contemporaries.

Under the Reefs Orchestra sounds like what Kevin Parker imagines Tame Impala sounds like. It’s boundary-pushing and brave without ever actively pursuing these descriptors. On “Tucuman,” Nourry’s guitar melts atop a lilting bassline and heavy, punishing drums from Evrard. If King Crimson recorded all of their music in a cave, it might sound somewhat like the music Under the Reefs make. Despite being a trio, this truly is an orchestra. The title fits. They move and build with the pacing of classical music, stacking chords and rhythms atop each other in a relentless pursuit of vertical music. Under the Reefs Orchestra are a slowly forming skyscraper, often offering blueprints before fulfilling on the promise, which generally resolves towards the end of songs like a foregone conclusion. But the expected reveal isn’t a cop out. It’s immensely satisfying.

“Hana” consists of mostly slide guitar, a delicately and delightfully arranged composition that has little interest in moving outside of beauty and grace. The diversity of ideas packed into this seven song album is astounding. The terrain they cover is indebted to a variety of forebears, but the group never sounds out of their element. As a trio, they translate a history of music into an entirely new language.

It’s a stunning album, a debut that recalls a record that’s been on your shelf for years. In describing the LP, Nourry had this to say: “The underlying poetic idea is that by drowning, being at the bottom, losing everything, we discover a new and hidden world.” The album is a total submission of individual ego in favor of something sprawling and multifaceted. Its parts are easily detectable but impossible to separate. In trying to find something past death, Under the Reefs Orchestra have discovered that the unavoidable noise of eternity can be quite stunning.

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