There is a whisper, a scattering of whispers, a whole orchestrated evening of whispers — a subdued kind of wonder and majesty to it all. But even though only her name appears on the product these days, she never walks these woods alone.
Temporary Residence Records yesterday released The Clearing, Louisville-based composer/pianist Rachel Grimes’ second full-length solo record. And The Clearing is, without pause or hesitation, an early contender for your and critics’ Best of the Year lists and easily the most enchanting and complete piece of work Grimes has produced since Rachel’s, her avant-chamber group, dissipated in the late-aughts after recording the gems that book-ended its discography, 1995’s Handwriting and 2003’s Systems/Layers.
The Clearing is nothing if not a brilliant quilt, a patchwork, a genesis of collaboration. In the hands of a craftsman less adept than Grimes, this would leave the audience gawking at uneven seams. Not so. Here, instead, we are left to gaze lovingly at the subtle differences and similarities in tone and texture. The way guest Loscil’s breathy atmospherics in ”The Air” cycles pair with guest Scott Moore’s violin, that could lead us to the gentle, plodding piano spine of the title track, or guest Jacob Duncan’s mind-bendingly smoky saxophone solos and Ornette Colemen posturing on ”The Herald.” The way urgent percussion from guest Shipping News/King’s Daughter & Son Kyle Crabtree — real echoes of Rachel’s there — underlines a beautiful descending piano line from Grimes, or how that behooves the almost meta-medieval introduction to ”Further Foundation,” one of the record’s closing tracks. Rachel’s founder/alum Christian Frederickson also appears.
”In The Vapor With The Air Underneath,” feels at first like fairies dancing in moonlight with light, trebly piano, and ends like moths lost in a fluorescent drone. ”Tranverse Plane Horizontal,” in contrast with Crabtree’s enlivening time-keeping performance, is mellow and even somber, plaintive, an evening spent drinking with the moon. ”The Air At Night,” like a Satie ”Gnossienne,” the best of the ”Airs,” closes the record, a wonderful sealing of the wax. There’s not a dull moment to be seen.
But the most beautiful moment of the record, of Grimes’ career, of my goddamn life? At about 3:35 into ”Further Foundation,” Grimes puts aside the song’s progression all together, and all the instruments set into a sudden soar upward, as if called to the heavens by tornado or by a drastic shift in gravity or — if you’re the religious type — by God itself. The swell progresses and shifts tones, appropriately, utterly moving, and oozes sadness, deep, deep sadness, — it is melancholic, remorseful, even. It shows us Grimes, the composer, and not Grimes, the pianist, and it is shatteringly beautiful and emotive. I’m sure there are music theorists who can explain to me why this should be here and this should be there. But I want this movement — which runs about a minute and a half, and disappears into a closing motif — on my stereo and as my ringtone and on my gravestone and carved into my hearing aide when I am old and gray. It is moments like this that make The Clearing not only a good record — nay, a great record — for Rachel Grimes, but a record you’ll be listening to in 20 years and still finding new secrets and new reasons to fall in love all over again. May tornados or gravity or God bless Grimes and her collaborators for it!