May 13, 2022
refuge - Alexandra Grimal
Label: Relative Pitch Records
Catalog #: RPRSS017
Location: United States
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Media: compact disc or digital download
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The staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House chose the auspicious date of Friday the 13th to make the time to sit down and write about this cd, refuge, to which they have been listening on and off for a month. The record features Alexandra Grimal playing solo on soprano saxophone. The eight tracks range in length from under two minutes to over sixteen minutes. Each piece is a contemplation of a particular object or creature, including the salamander, the wind, a reedy marsh, a castle, a staircase. There is more than an abstract relationship between the music and the object invoked in the title. For example in salamandre a listener hears the fluid weaving of the amphibian in the movement of the saxophone. In escalier, her saxophone races down spiral stairs, and pauses unpredictably in the middle of the staircase, before either resuming the descent or reversing course to ascend. In martinets, we don't know whether her intention is to call to mind the song of swifts or the patterns of their flight, but the degree to which our imaginative listening corresponds to reality, of course, doesn't matter.
For those unfamiliar with her work, Ms. Grimal has an extensive discography (at current count a search on discogs.com returns forty-six unique releases). In about half of these records, she is the ensemble leader or co-headliner. Her repertoire is centered in (though not limited to) jazz and spans various axes from traditional to free, from composition and improvisation, and from melody to dissonance depending upon the goals of the various ensembles. Her music has an intentionality and a discipline while maintaining a carefree and light-hearted tone. She has recorded with familiar names including Tyshawn Sorey, Joëlle Léandre and Lee Konitz. She has also made equally excellent music with many musicians less well known.
refuge is Ms. Grimal's first on an American label. While she has a diverse discography that cannot be captured in any single release, we suppose that a solo saxophone performance provides an undiluted exposure to her musical esthetic. As such, it serves as a good introduction to an American audience. refuge appears within the Solo Saxophone series of Relative Pitch Records. We have listened to each release in this series since its inception in 2019. This series provides a delightful exploration, curated by Relative Pitch proprietor, Kevin Reilly, of contemporary solo saxophone from musicians practicing outside the cultural mainstream. This contribution from Ms. Grimal is well situated in the series and certainly adds to its depth and appeal. Amazingly, judging by the catalog number, this is the seventeenth release in the series. Since less than ten have thus far been made available to the public, there appears to be quite a few more making way through the production process—something to look forward to, for sure. As an aside, for those looking to hear more of Ms. Grimal on something other than soprano saxophone, there are many options and a self-guided musical exploration is usually the best method of investigation. Still, please permit us to suggest a personal favorite, Kankū (ONJ Records, 2017), on which she is credited with both tenor saxophone and voice.)
refuge was recorded in the double spiral staircase of the Château de Chambord in September 2020. The acoustics of the architectural space are implicit in the recording. As any reader who has made it this far into the review can see for themselves, this rambling review is largely useless. Of course, it has been said that "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." [Martin Mull, Detroit Free Press, February 1979]. On refuge, Ms. Grimal plays music about architecture, which therefore invokes a convolution of this old quote, namely, "Making music about architecture is like writing about wondering and wandering."
As an obtuse addendum, we prepared for this review by listening to Friday the 13th recorded by Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins in 1953, a favorite piece for this happy date.