Tag Archives: Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon’s “Reward” Marks a Turning Point

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Photography by Ivana Kličković

On a recent visit to New York City, Welsh songwriter Cate Le Bon visited an exhibit on the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim Museum. There are some similarities between af Klint’s dramatic abstract paintings and Le Bon’s new album, Reward. For one thing, both operate on a grand scale. Like af Klint, Le Bon works in isolation—Reward was written during a year she spent in solitary conditions in rural England. Although the album is intimate in nature, it incorporates a dynamic new palette of sounds, and lyrics that are decidedly more straightforward. In short, Reward marks a sea change in her career.

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BANANA Live Challenges the Boundaries of Improvisation

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Veteran producer Josiah Steinbrick has worked with Devendra Banhart, Danger Mouse, and Charlotte Gainsbourg, among others; he’s obviously comfortable behind the scenes, able to leave a stylistic imprint without a heavy hand. Though his latest project BANANA—an improvisational live band with Cate Le Bon, Stephen Black, Huw Evans, Josh Klinghoffer, and Stella Mozgawa—doesn’t bear his name, it certainly has his signature.

Steinbrick is hesitant to make BANANA Live—a recording of his band’s Dublab performance, out now via LEAVING Records—about his work as a composer. This music is wholly reliant on the interplay and pace between instruments. The album—four rich, inventive tracks that trade space between minimalism and gorgeous melody—is unassuming yet uniquely powerful, utilizing repetition to highlight boisterous moments of interlocking instrumentation. Moments linger long after they pass, like the wild piano solo on “BANANA A” or the downtempo jazz on “BANANA D.” Steinbrick, along with Le Bon (piano and vibraphone), Black (clarinet and saxophone), Evans (guitar and synthesizer), Klinghoffer (marimba and synthesizer), and Mozgawa (bass, marimba, and percussion), have created a work of art both enduring and fleeting—yet because of the infectious melodies Steinbrick has composed, the work’s shelf life is longer than a one-off concert experience.

It’s the best of both worlds: the ephemeral nature of improvised live performance with the longevity of a recorded work. But, because each composition is tethered to an original idea written by Steinbrick, the improvisations are given sturdy ground atop which they can flourish. “BANANA B” floats around an Eastern-influenced clarinet line, slowly adding the marching repetition of the piano and marimba. The song resolves with cathartic major chords on the keys, a perfectly placed shaker, and Klinghoffer’s soaring guitar. “BANANA C” begins with a Steve Reich-like marimba line, repeating and layering before Stephen Black’s infectious saxophone line leads the band into a loosely tethered jam.

The core of BANANA Live is unmoving, the periphery constantly shifting. It is, in a sense, a live album; but if you go to a BANANA performance expecting to hear this record note for note, you won’t; BANANA Live is only accurate as a snapshot of the project as any improvisational project can be. The band members take turns improvising over these loose structures, building melodies before dismantling them through soloing and beginning again. It’s a one time thing, over and over again. We spoke with Steinbrick via phone from his home in Los Angeles on the eve of a grueling tour.

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