REVIEW: astrid & Rachel Grimes – “Through The Sparkle”

Man, that’s devastating! If the reverb-drenched guitar on this record’s second track doesn’t move you to tremble with tears, then the soaring strings on “M1” surely will.

Pianist/composer Rachel Grimes follows up her best-of-2015 The Clearing solo outing with the magnificent Through The Sparkle, a seven-song collaboration with the French chamber ensemble astrid, out today digitally, on CD and on vinyl through U.K.-based Gizeh Records. This thing’s gotta be heard to be believed.

Striking, again, with some of her finest work, Grimes’ piano flashes more contemporary flourishes than the heart-wrenching Romanticism of her landmark years with Rachel’s, everyone’s favorite post-classical ensemble. While there are still gentle, lulling notes – I’m looking to the album-closing “Le Petit Salon” and, again, the epic “M1” – Grimes’ metronomic figures on “The Herald en Masse” and “Mossgrove & Seaweed” positively pulsate with life, lending a record laced with restraint loads of emotional force.

This says nothing of astrid multi-instrumentalist Vanina Andreani, whose violin wraps its fingers around Grimes’ ephemeral melodies in much the way Christian Frederickson’s viola did in Rachel’s. Guillaume Wickel is brilliant on bass clarinet, drummer/percussionist Yvan Ros does a fine job anchoring the melancholy, and didn’t I already mention the eerie repercussions of Cyril Secq’s guitar? This ensemble, featuring Grimes, seems to have a beautiful way of making even the most composed moment seem instinctive, lending a gentle humanity to the proceedings.

There are less “classical” and more “post-classical” moments on the record, too, like the haunted “The Theme,” which starts with an emotive bass clarinet figure and kalimba, and expands, more often through the space between notes than the notes themselves, with an electric guitar right out of Hotel2Tango in Montreal. Or there’s “Hollis,” which punctuates Grimes’ refrains with more kalimba, subtle bass, and a shuffling, jazzy backbeat before descending into a field of mathy beeps that could be summoned from piano and, maybe, a Fender Rhodes.

The whole record is breathtaking gossamer – definite year-end-list material.