Larkin Grimm – Chasing an Illusion
Northern Spy Records
– out June 16
2.5 / 5
We respect Alice Coltrane. We like Ornette Coleman. We love Pharoah Sanders. And New York City-based Larkin Grimm references them all on her latest full-length, Chasing an Illusion. But somehow, with all this free-form Jazz woven into Illusion, it’s not enough to get us to enjoy her ostensibly folk-ish album. We’re not saying one can’t work a little of Sanders’ magic into modern folk (or what remains of folk, here), but what Grimm has offered, while earnest and certainly adventurous, is actually fairly boring. Yes. We apologize for the unimaginative term, but we want to be clear: most of the tracks here are just lacking that kind of passion.
And when we say “passion,” we reference Sanders’ Karma. The intensity of an over-thirty minute free Jazz song, one that we love and keep coming back to again and again, is the very definition of “passion.”
But perhaps we’re unfair to judge Grimm by these standards. Nonetheless: Illusion takes off a bigger bite than it can handle. For being inspired by free Jazz, Grimm’s songwriting feels too shapeless for our tastes. Yes. That is an awkward thing to say, we realize. But hear us out: at nearly six minutes, songs like “Colors” feel tight; in Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, one can feel the groove, the clear melodies. We shall attempt to explain free-form Jazz this way: the rhythm section explores. Drums shift rhythms, bass often changes progressions. Grimm’s rhythm section is very cyclical (notice “Keeping You Alive”) over which she adds India-inspired sounds, reverb, and lacks clear, enjoyable melodies. We’ve mentioned before how to tell if Jazz is good; that is, check the rhythm section. This is where Grimm especially lacks.
Yet, we admit that Grimm takes an enormous risk here. And while it mostly doesn’t pay off for us, her sense of ambition is awe-inspiring. We say “mostly”: we have to mention the fantastic closer, the title track “Chasing an Illusion.” Here, she eschews any attempt at sounding polished, and we love her cracked, aggravated vocals. We feel that if more of the album reached toward the brilliance of this track (an eight-minute track), the apex of of her performance and emoting on this album, then Grimm would have done it. She would have reached the start of the staircase up toward the immortal masters she clearly loves. But not yet, Illusions is more ghost than grand. Though the journey of a thousand miles starts with one track.
The nod to Alice Coltrane, Sanders and Coleman is not enough to pull us (or likely the casual listener) in; that title track, though, will lead that casual listener to a place they’d never imagined. Overall, take a pass; but listen to the title track for something fresh and unique.
Check out Larkin Grimm’s website here.
Hey, some of us are actually wanting to know what this album sounds like. I mean, what’s the instrumentation? How are the arrangements?
Hi Jez, thanks for the comment! The instrumentation is somewhat folky (guitar, drums etc) with an Indian / S Asian flair (instrumentally), similar to Karma.
Arrangements… that’s harder to describe here because of the nature of the album. These aren’t tight, penned songs. I suspect much of the process here is inventing a few riffs, and free-form winging it (probably the rhythm section is planned out more than other parts). Kind of like Free Jazz, open form and no soloing, but more constrained.
Wow misogyny at work. Behold.
A woman with a long career behind her and more than 7 records is definitely not at the bottom of the stairs. Larkin Grimm is a master in her own right.