Published Jan 25, 2017Around the same time that Cate Le Bon was recording her lovely 2016 album, Crab Day, the talented musicians that supported her on that record — Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint, Josh Klinghoffer of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Le Bon's long-time players Huw Evans (a.k.a. H. Hawkline) and Stephen Black (a.k.a. Sweet Baboo) — formed an instrumental ensemble led by producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Josiah Steinbrick.
So, it suffices to say that the skill and chemistry runs deep in this group, named Banana on their debut LP, LIVE. Regardless of what the members might be best known for, the ensemble lights up with a unique blend of chiming percussion (reminiscent of Indonesian Gamelan music), minimalist repetition and modal jazz. The standout element might be Stephen Black's clarinet and saxophone melodies, but the blend and cohesion make the sum package feel indivisible.
"Banana A" opens the album with layered mallet percussion ostinatos an extra beat long. As the pokey saxophone and steady bass pulse build, listeners are transported further away from the everyday. About halfway through, a jaunty, almost folksy piano breaks through dramatically before the ensemble re-enters to whisk us away again. This is just one example of the structural development and variation this exciting ensemble is capable of; each of the four tracks here bubble with playfulness and exuberance.
Though this music is vibrant, it doesn't shy away from the melancholy, either. Some moments have the kind of contemplative mood that could perfectly soundtrack a Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, with a heartstring-plucking balance of existentialism and tenderness. Sure, life is busy, messy and at times nonsensical, but this album reminds that it's also beautiful and full of possibility. (Leaving)