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Alexandra Grimal - Andromeda

Stef Gijssels, Free Jazz

French saxophonist Alexandra Grimal is hard to pigeon-hole. She continues to amaze. After her adventurous trio album "Shape", and two interesting singles with "You Had Me At Hello", she produced some more accessible albums last year, of which "Ghibli", the duo with pianist Giovanni di Domenico is my favorite. Now she astonishes again with the young New York-based trio of Todd Neufeld on acoustic and electric guitars, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.

The music is inspired by space, the sky at night, the stars. The image that comes to mind when listening is that of watercolor painting though. Primarily as a result of the absolute lightness of touch all four musicians use to create their art. The sounds are sparse, spacious, thin ... as if the notes coming from the different instruments are soluble and mix together for somewhat diffuse contours despite the obvious figurative style. There are melodies, there is lyricism, there are composed bits and pieces left and right, or some free and harsher moments with great density, but like the stars, they float in this attractive and strangely luminous openness.

And the composed pieces never become patterns, they fade away into space again, and when new themes emerge, they are entirely new, sometimes eery, often beautiful, yet as quick in passing as the other themes, so that repetitions never arise, and a kind of surprised sadness and wonder remains.

I have listened a lot to this album over the past weeks, because it is hard to come to grips with. At times I thought it lacked substance, as it is all too light and non-committal, but then again I appreciated the cautious exploration and inherent sensitivity.

What is also great about the album is that all four musicians are perfectly on the same page at all moments. It is quite an endeavour to play in this fashion, barely touching the instrument at times, barely producing notes at all. What distinguishes the album from other contemporary minimalist approaches, is the total absence of a menacing tension, offering a more a tranquil intensity instead.

This is music that makes you think and reflect and wonder and admire and enjoy. And in the uniqueness of musical vision, it is also very stubborn.