The Monkey in the Abstract Garden is the duo of French sax player-composer-singer-songwriter Alexandra Grimal with electronics player Benjamin Lévy and Over Mountains is already the third album that this duo released in the last two years. Grimal composed the music in residency in the fairy tale castle of Chambord, one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture.
There Grimal was listening to the black swifts circling in the sky, chatting with the gardeners and making my voice reverberate among the ancient stones, in 2020. It was recorded at Centre des Arts Numériques in Enghien-les-Bains in February 2021. This cycle of 25 songs was written just before the world reached a standstill with the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns. Grimal felt that the «words flowed little by little with a few notes on a makeshift piano. A few tears also flowed, from the vulnerability of saying through music, of letting the door to the inner world and emotions open once again, but in such a different way».
And, indeed, Over Mountains radiates an engaging, dreamy innocence, before the stressful panic of the pandemic lockdowns. Grimal does not play the sax here but takes the role of an alternative singer-songwriter who sings in English and French, plays on conventional instruments and unorthodox objects like pearls, dried flowers, cornballs, wooden frog and an egg and reflects on her life the surrounding, beautiful nature. She dedicates a song to her adoptive grandmother Gilberte, and quotes the environmental Manifeste du Tiers-paysage by Gilles Clément («If we stop looking at the landscape as the object of an industry, we suddenly discover – is it an oversight by the cartographer, negligence by the politician? – a number of undecided spaces, devoid of function, on which it is difficult to give a name».)
Lévy ornaments Grimal’s unassuming and gentle, child-like innocent delivery with intimate and suggestive, but often contrasts the leisured atmosphere with unsettling, alien-industrial sounds as if anticipating the pandemic. But Lévy always assists Grimal’s wish to give her voice to the world and to «let it fly away, like the migratory birds which unceasingly, over the years, come back to the places of their anchorage». A sentiment, I guess, that feels natural at the fairy tale castle of Chambord.
Alexandra Grimal (v, mini Rhodes, little stones, reeds, pieces of wood, cymbals, keys, pearls, Tibetan bowl, wooden pucks, dried flowers, corn balls, wooden frog, egg); Benjamin Lévy (elec), Didier et Aiko Aschour (perc)