Flemish ensemble Aranis play original music that blends classical chamber music elements with the rhythmic drive and pulse of rock and minimalism. Based in Antwerp and led by composer/bassist Joris Vanvinckenroye, the core group has no drummer and strongly emphasizes acoustic instrumentation. In addition to Vanvinckenroye, the bandmembers have included flutist Jana Arns; violinists Linde de Groof and Liesbeth Lambrecht; violist Stefan Wellens; accordionist Marjolein Cools; guitarist Stijn Denys; and either Axelle Kennes, Ward De Vleeschhouwer, or Pierre Chevalier on piano.
Aranis' eponymous debut CD was recorded in August 2005 and distributed by Lowlands later that year; Aranis was reviewed enthusiastically by those who heard it, and compared to the work of other notable chamber-style ensembles straddling the worlds of modern classical, rock, jazz, and European folk musics, including the Belgian groups Julverne and Louise Avenue -- both of which featured members of avant-prog warhorses Univers Zero. The band in fact cites UZ as an influence, along with a host of others ranging from Astor Piazzolla to Gavin Bryars, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Flat Earth Society, and Stravinsky, Bartók, and Shostakovich. In 2007 Aranis recorded and released their second CD, Aranis II (featuring an appearance by X-Legged Sally, Flat Earth Society, and Think of One trumpeter Bart Maris), and embarked on an extensive series of live concerts throughout Belgium, continuing through the fall and winter and extending into spring of the following year.
In April of 2009 the group recorded its third album, Songs from Mirage, featuring vocal contributions from Els Van Laethem, Herlinde Ghekiere, and Anne Marie Honggokoesoemo. That same month, Aranis leader Vanvinckenroye -- using the moniker BASta! -- recorded his first solo CD, entitled Cycles. Both Songs from Mirage and Cycles were released on the Belgian "modern folk" label Home later in 2009. Aranis' fourth album, Roqueforte, arrived the following year on the Italian AltrOck label; the album brought a change in personnel, with the band now consisting of Vanvinckenroye, Arns, Lambrecht, Cools, Denys, and violist Wellens along with keyboardist Chevalier (Univers Zero, Present) and drummer Dave Kerman (5uu's, Thinking Plague, Ahvak, Present), giving somewhat more emphasis to the music's rhythmic pulse and power without compromising the group's chamberesque qualities or the consistency of Vanvinckenroye's compositional approach.
In 2012 the band returned in a drummerless sextet lineup of Vanvinckenroye, Lambrecht, Cools, Denys, Arns, and De Vleeschhouwer with the Home label album Made in Belgium; rather than focusing exclusively on the music of Vanvinckenroye, on Made in Belgium the band interpreted the work of Belgian composers -- including prolific melodic minimalist Wim Mertens, Univers Zero's Daniel Denis, Present's Roger Trigaux, and Louise Avenue's Jan Kuijken -- with typical rhythmic precision, energetic spirit, textural complexity, and timbral warmth. The success of the project led Aranis to release Made in Belgium II on Home in 2014 -- and announce the disc as the second in a Belgian composer-focused trilogy. With Chevalier back in the lineup (replacing De Vleeschhouwer), Made in Belgium II presented an even more diverse array of music written by Belgians, including Flat Earth Society's Peter Vermeersch and Univers Zero's Kurt Budé in addition to Vanvinckenroye, Chevalier, Kuijken, De Vleeschhouwer, and others. Avant rock, jazz, and experimental guitarist Pierre Vervloesem appeared as a guest on two tracks. ~ Dave Lynch