The Colorist Orchestra is an avant classical music collective led by Aarich Jespers and Kobe Proesmans that uses traditional and bespoke instruments in unorthodox ways to remix the repertoire of an invited artist. Their new single “More Exes” is a stunning preview of Not On The Map, their latest collaboration with maverick songwriter Howe Gelb, coming this fall from Dangerbird Records.
Over a 30+ year career beginning with his trailblazing indie collective Giant Sand, Gelb has proven himself no stranger to experimentation and reinvention. When Jespers and Proesmans first approached Gelb, the intent was to apply the Colorist’s interpretive approach to Gelb’s expansive and diverse catalog, but they quickly discovered that there is little about Gelb’s creative method that involves sticking to a rigid plan.
“Inspired by an old Giant Sand song, we prepared and recorded almost all the parts for ‘More Exes’ before we had a vocal take,” Jespers said. “So we basically worked on the arrangement as an instrumental track, which explains the many layers in melodies and textures. We wanted to impress Howe with our full color sound to get him on board.”
Once Gelb was on board, the scope of the project expanded with the addition of folk singer and songwriter Pieta Brown at Gelb’s behest, and soon there were new lyrics for “More Exes” and new melodies to explore. It became abundantly clear to all involved that looking back would not be nearly as exhilarating as creating something entirely new.
“That first song was just kinda begging for something to make it more new, more vital, and not something from so many years ago. I wasn’t so stubborn as to try to hold it down to what I thought it used to be,” Gelb said.
“Howe told me he loved the sound of the track they sent, sparked by an old song of his called ‘Vortexas’, but that he really wanted to find a new song in it all somehow,” Brown recalled. “I said, ‘How about More Exes?’ and the next thing we all knew Howe had written and recorded that lyric, and asked me to sing on it.”
Based in Antwerp with eight members including Jespers and Proesmans, who are percussionists, TCO likes making sounds at different tones and frequencies with things that are not actually instruments as well as instruments they’ve made or altered. Once they find the sounds they want, it all gets written down and rehearsed: every groove, string, chord and chime.
“I really had to stop for a minute and digest the fact that all those pieces were written out,” says Gelb. “That they didn’t just get together and jam out.”
Best-known for their 2016 collaboration, The Colorist and Emiliana Torrini, The Colorist Orchestra has also toured and recorded with Sumie, Cibelle, Gabriel Rios and Lisa Hannigan.
Until now, all of The Colorist Orchestra’s previous releases were built around meticulously rehearsed and arranged live performances of songs from their collaborator’s catalog. But Not On The Map is entirely new material. Perhaps the perfect summation of the project came from Proesmans’ 11 year-old daughter, after first hearing the latter tracks. “You have Howe, and he’s creating a world,” she said. “And then you guys create the ocean around it.”