The septet Carate Urio Orchestra offers a tricky, eccentric, and surreal sonic experience. After many listening to the group sophomore album, Lover, following Sparrow Mountain (2013), it is still difficult to discern what this group is really about. Is it free, experimental improvisation? Art sound meets noise? Art rock? Not that it really matters after surrendering to its alchemical experience.
The CUO has succeeded in keeping its international lineup, featuring highly original and resourceful improvisers and is planning to release another album later this year on the Clean Feed label. CUO is comprised of Belgian reeds, keyboard, and occasional vocalist Joachim Badenhorst, known from the trio Baloni; his partners from that trio, the French, Zürich-based viola player Frantz Loriot and German, New York-based double bass player Pascal Niggenkemper (the two collaborate also on the latter Vision 7 group); Belgian, Denmark-based bass player Brice Soniano, who plays with Badenhorst in the Rawfishboys duo; and three guitarist - Irish Seán Carpio, who doubles on drums and sings on one piece, Catalan Nico Ruig, and American Sam Kulik, who doubles on trombone. Kulik replaced original member of CUO, the Icelandic trumpeter Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson.
Somehow all of CUO sonic contrasts, conflicts, loose threads, and searches connect and find thier own coherent rationale in Lover. The instrumental pieces emphasize CUO's rich spectrum and highly versatile language. The opening “Preacher” begins as uncompromising double bass duel between Niggenkemper and Soniano but suddenly takes on a distorted and abstract metallic texture. “Iron Bird” is a playful, innocent piece, based on simple kalimba pattern, intruded by eccentric improvisations, while the longer “Crazy wind laid down” is a quiet and minimalist cinematic piece, intruded upon by eccentric and tortured improvised sounds, but still while maintaining its suggestive spirit. Roig short “Feet History” is a gentle, moving piece, revolving around a repetitive guitar riff.
The songs even expand CUO's highly unique and original sonic experience. Carpio sings the dreamy “År Antiphon” in a fragile voice, slowly obscured by disturbing noise storms. Badenhorst sings the title song in a synthesized voice, surfacing out of a mysterious-percussive soundscape that brings to mind the dreamy-melancholic delivery of Mark Hollis from Talk Talk. The last song, “Fremdenzimmer”, originally the title of Baloni's debut album (Clean Feed, 2011), is another melancholic piece, arranged as a chamber-choral piece, where Badenhorst voice is multiplied, eventually leaving him reciting this appealing prayer with commanding pathos.
Lover comes with beautiful handmade artwork by Rie Iwatake, printed in three color editions: white, black, and fluorescent orange.