Astrïd & Rachel Grimes: Through the Sparkle (Gizeh Records, 2017)
Through the Sparkle is a collaboration between the band Astrïd of Nantes, France and neo-classical composer and pianist Rachel Grimes of Louisville, Kentucky. Both mailed and e-mailed one another for years until Astrïd invited Grimes over to France to record with them. During the course of 2012 and 2013, Astrïd and Grimes wrote tracks and produced what would become Through the Sparkle. Each composition has a particularly connective energy to them and there is an organic feel to the expressions. It’s clear that Astrïd and Grimes have a connection, moving through melodic moments, turning them on their heads, returning to melodies, and reshaping them.
“The Herald en Masse” calls the listener to settle in for a moving, elegantly executed aural experience. Piano begins to play a melody that hypnotically swirls over brushed percussion work and a counter melody played on strings. There are beautiful experimental moments throughout the piece as well, with strings seeming to veer slightly off the given track or cello interjecting its thoughtful yet objecting notes. I would describe “The Herald en Masse” as dynamic as both Astrïd and Grimes create intricate and complex moments out of what is simple melodies. “M5” begins with electric guitar shimmering in all but silence. Piano answers in sparse lines and counter melodies. “M5” evokes open deserts or the grey that sits between the black and white images of film noir. Eventually, piano plays a vibrant piece, sparse drums join the dance, and clarinet joins in as well. There is an exciting movement here, from sparse to playful.
“The Theme” starts with clarinet joined by reverb drenched guitar and metallophone. Grimes’ piano work is patient and fills voids with beautiful accents that lead to playful moments on clarinet, guitar, and other instruments. Cinematic in its feel, “The Theme” could indeed be a theme of a character in a television series or film. While there is certainly a thread through the song that ties it together, the movements throughout are just gloriously different and surprising. I’m especially taken aback by the moment that happens at around 4:49. It feels poignant and almost tragic. “Mossgrove & Seaweed” has a staccato piano pounding out chords in manic succession. A drone seems to sit under the piano, hanging and still. Clarinet reveals itself as it leaps above the piano. Then the speakers are filled with long, flowing strings and deep, abiding tones.
“Hollis” is another fanciful composition. Humming strings glide through melodic piano and then the drums and bass join in to bring a fullness to the piece. There is an alt-jazz feel here with the lightly touched percussion and not quite freeform feel of the melodic composition. Metallophone plays a counter melody that is mirrored on what I think is a kalimba. They are, in a way, metronomic, keeping time with the percussion. “M1” once again returns with guitar at the center but this time it is an acoustic guitar rather than electric. There is a Spanish flavor to the work here, beautiful and mournful. I must say that the violin work on this track is mesmerizing. As the rest of the band fills out the spaces, it becomes almost operatic in its beauty. “Le Petit Salon” is the finale to the album and begins with the soft lilt of the violin over pensive piano. Sporadic drums accent the composition here and there as an ambient quality drifts throughout the piece. “Le Petit Salon” tells a sonic story of a somber place with perfectly executed instrumentation.
Through the Sparkle is a vivid set of tracks that are cinematic and carefully composed. Patient in their execution, Grimes and Astrïd find a chemistry that is palpable upon listening. Evocative of smoky rooms, noir films, desert landscapes, dark city streets, and cold winter’s nights, Through the Sparkle takes the listener on an aural journey that is only bound by the listener’s imagination. Released on vinyl, CD, and digital formats, Through the Sparkle is a neo-classical gem that should be in everyone’s music collection.
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