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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Alexandra Grimal and Giovanni Domenico: Chergui (Ayler, 2014) *****

Reviewed by Joe

This is one of those records released in the last half of 2014, however, due the sheer quantity of albums to listen to this one got stuck in the 'things to listen to' pile, which, unfortunately, means the review comes a little late, although in this case better late than never!  

Chergui, a double album, is a collection of duets and solo pieces which are - I imagine - a combination of improvised performances and some compositions. The record opens with the extraordinary Prana, a solo piece by Alexandra Grimal, who develops an initial idea on her soprano which also makes use of the sound of the room - recorded in the Theatre du Châtelet (Paris) - to give the piece this extra dimension that Lacy also enjoyed using. Grimal makes full use of the acoustic, taking advantage of the theatre's sound to get the best out of the space between notes. It is an 8 minute track which is completely hypnotic, showing perfectly how an idea can be developed into several layers. What also strikes me on this, and the following performances, is the amazing control and clarity of sound that Grimal brings to this difficult saxophone, making the recording a pure joy to hear. The album never lets up from here over it's eighteen tracks, leading the listener through an intimate and yet searching set of works. 

Alexandra Grimal chooses soprano on most tracks, however, on The Window was Camel-less we get to hear the tenor saxophone. Grimal's approach to the tenor is slightly different and brings something quite special to the duo's sound which makes you wonder why she didn't use the instrument on some of the other pieces. The album is, one could say, a celebration of sound and space where Grimal and di Domenico use the theatre's space and acoustic to build some remarkable duet and solo works. One such work that appears in different guises dotted throughout the album, six in all, is piece titled Koan - versions numbered 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 & 19. These wonderful duets, almost short vignettes between the piano and soprano sax, seem to have planned themes (slightly different each time), which the duo come back to, using a slightly different approach each time to create new work.

As mentioned already there are two discs in this set. The main difference between the two is that the second disc places the emphasis on Giovanni di Domenico. This gives us a perfect chance to really listen to this composer/improviser/pianist, working melody and developing improvisations in a way which are at times close to modern 20th century piano works, and truly captivating also. Pieces such as Zai or Let sounds be themselves show di Domenico's way of combining contemporary techniques and melody into his own sound world, complementing Grimal's solo pieces on the CD. Nevertheless, the second album also has several duets which carry on from the first album. Tema Per Jan Svankmayer has a melody which leads the two to explore delicate spaces in the acoustics of the theatre. Ballata dei Piedi Volanti is another piece, that as the title suggests, treads carefully, only revealing the true nature of the melody at the end of the piece.

This recording is a must for all that enjoy improvisation at its highest level and I should add, that if there's one album you should have bought last year,'s this one!

Head over to Ayler Records to get more details, and whilst your there don't forget to look over their excellent catalogue!


Colin Green said...

I don't think there's a problem reviewing 2014 releases in early 2015. It's almost inevitable. Unfortunately, releases from the last two to three months of a year often don't appear on "best of" lists, as reviewers and listeners haven't yet caught up with them, and they're excluded from the following years' lists. A bit of a black hole from that point of view.

joesh said...

Indeed Colin. I was a bit slow in getting the review written due to a heavy work schedule. Luckily I did manage to get the album onto my 'top 9'(*) for 2014.

Best - Joe

(*) = I couldn't think of a 10th album at that present moment ..!

Colin Green said...

And now? Any latecomers to the 2014 ball?

Stef said...

Great album. My preferred track is "Diotime et les Lions", a solo piece by Grimal of astonishing beauty.

joesh said...

Hi Stef, excellent album I must say, although Alexandra Grimal seems to be moving away from more 'extreme' sonic experiments.

@Colin, as for latecomers for 2014 the problem for me is that I'm listening to so much that I can't always say that 'all' my listening habits will fit into the FreeJazz blog best of lists - hence the short list. However, some of my other favourite listening for 2014 were more on the electronic side:

Erik Honoré: Heliographs
Tim Hecker: Virgins
Holden: The Inheritors
Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plan Seven

+ several extraodinary albums from Matt Robertson (a modular synth wizard who works for Bjork in his spare time).

I will try to write something for "Oren Ambarchi/Eli Keszler: ALPS" on Dancing Wayang which I didn't have time to really dig into, but it sounded a strong album on first listen. I also have to say, like Stef, I'm a big fan of the 'Skogen' albums.