The Archestra


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Close observers might have seen it coming: On Phenomena and Existences, Belorussian avant-prog ensemble Rational Diet's third album on AltrOck, presaged the group's unraveling. The 2010 disc's composing credits were largely split between two bandmembers, with much of the most animated and knotty material written by violinist Kirill Krystia and the more flowing material penned by keyboardist/vocalist Olga Podgaiskaja. Well, RD did indeed split up and two groups emerged in the aftermath, with Krystia forming the Archestra and Podgaiskaja playing a prominent role in Five-Storey Ensemble. Krystia's Archestra appears to be the band where RD's more rocked-up side has come to live. On Arches, the Archestra's 2013 debut disc (and first album released by the Soleil Mutant imprint), Krystia plays violin and composed all the material. Also present are former RD members bassoonist Vitaly Appow and drummer Nikolay "Gumberg" Semitko. Vocalist, violinist, cellist, and producer Nadia Krystia -- Kirill's wife -- is prominently featured, and highly skilled players on piano, electric bass, double bass, and electric guitar round out the lineup. Also notable: mastering by Udi Koomran, whose mixing and/or mastering is rather like a Rock in Opposition-style avant-prog certified seal of approval these days.

While much of the music is thoroughly scored, Kirill Krystia also improvises and is credited with "instrumental noise," and the Archestra employs musique concrète, chance, and serialist approaches in tandem with more conventional composing. But the outré elements are not merely ends in themselves. On "Window," for example, echoing, abrasive, and dissonant violin sounds contrast with a delicate, even tuneful recurring motif of Kirill Krystia's arco and pizzicato strings layered with melodic electric bass, bassoon, and piano. Nadia Krystia leaps operatically into a high soprano here, with a heavy dose of reverb giving her voice a spectral ethereality. Nadia's wordless vocals provide more subtle colors elsewhere, and although she never completely abandons a conservatory-bred artiness on the tracks with lyrics, her theatricality -- coupled with sometimes startling multi-octave range -- adds an appropriately unhinged quality to the herky-jerky "Tocsin," with lyrics based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells.

Beyond the vocals, there is much to enjoy in the instrumentalism of Arches, from its waltzy, comparatively understated opening and closing tracks ("Hymn of Another Reality" and "Anthem"), where Ivan Lichko's piano remains steadfast against Kirill Krystia's unsettling noise undercurrents, to the unpredictable episodic complexities of the "...Another/Different Reality" and "Triptych" pieces, which bear the strong sonic imprint of Unrest or Western Culture-era Henry Cow. With lyrics inspired by Russian proto-existentialist Andrei Platonov, "Triptych" culminates extravagantly in its third part ("Last Day"), imbued with a percolating energy as Yuri Korogoda's rough guitar sounds off against Appow's jaunty bassoon, while "The Train" (also inspired by Platonov) churns, rolls, and squeals propulsively forward through much of its duration, seamlessly collaging avant rock, chamber classical, noisy experimentation, and even roiling free jazz into its heady mix.

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