Aranis is a band that music snobs should love. Relatively obscure, at least in the United States, the Flemish band mixes classical music and rock music and the result is a kind of genius jazz. To get an idea of what Aranis is like before listening to this release, imagine a five- piece chamber quintet with a progressive rock attitude, with grunge for inspiration and you come close to grasping the band’s sound.
Some jazz aficionados would call Aranis “third stream”, a term that is widely meant to define those outfits that clearly are a mix of rock and classical music. However, the designation falls short when Aranis covers Nirvana in an effort that is both true to the spirit of the original, yet wholly original.
Label Aranis jazz-rock fusion, third stream, avant-garde, the songs on this release represent singles from a cross section of Nirvana’s oeuvre and the result is remarkably rock-oriented. When thinking of bands that could be saluted by a jazz group (of any subgenre), Nirvana would not have made the long list. It isn’t that there are no jazz ensembles of various sort doing tributes to rock or pop groups; it is only that the tributes are often for different types of bands.
At the outset, the song sounds like one of the extraneous ringtone options on cellphones that no one ever uses. I waited, with reservation, for the ragged resignation, smoldering just beneath its “I don’t care” surface. I waited, too, for the giant ramp up that marks the chorus.
Here, strings in different registers replicate Cobain’s moody vocals. Then, something else happens—right when listeners of the original would expect the thudding but flexible bass guitar and screaming vocals, the piece sounds as though it has decided to self-destruct, as if this whole tribute album should be called off. Literally it sounded as if a piano was destroyed, or at least injured. This is part of what makes the recording a work of art. On the chorus, listeners can hear flutes and strings make up the lead vocals, an artful take on a grunge rock classic.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
This version of the grunge rock classic does is uniquely arranged. The percussion plods lightly and woodwinds swirl with it, creating a machine of sound. Less than one minute in, the piano and woodwinds and strings make an almost Latin feel that reminded me, incorrectly or not, of “Do It Again” by Steely Dan. Then, listeners find out that what they have just been treated to is a prelude of sorts. Masterful strings and soaring woodwinds make the same declarations and interrogations that Cobain used in the original, and that those who have heard the song before will be able to hear, even in an instrumental treatment.
An Original Tribute
Aranis’ “Smells Like Aranis” announces to audiences what has influenced the work, but makes it clear that the work is their own. Although not easily classified, at least not on this recording, Aranis is a band worth listening to, whose approach is worth considering.