Musicians who choose to put the word ‘blues’ in their album title can usually be divided into two camps; those who wish to dwell upon the misery that having the blues brings, and those who see their music as sitting firmly in the blues tradition. So either reflecting a feeling, or aligning oneself with the genre that’s spawned numerous sub-genres from rock ‘n’ roll onwards.
High Blues positions Astrïd somewhere adjacent to the Blues as we know it; they are a more nebulous proposition. Those who think fondly of Talk Talk’s excursions into blues territory, such as “Myrrhman” on Laughing Stock will find a like-minded group here, a multi-tasking quartet who clearly appreciate the use of space in their music and aren’t afraid to grow their pieces slowly and deliberately in an organic manner.
The album is dominated by the lengthy title track which quickly builds up a head of steam with some lively drumming by Yvan Ros, before dispersing into abstraction, only for a double bass riff (also played by Ros) to pull everything together. It’s the guitar playing of Cyril Secq that is the constant on “High Blues”– a fragmented blues riff of sorts – and again it’s the combination of Ros and Secq that powers “Suite” along as well; a track full of drive and menace that, perhaps frustratingly, doesn’t burst forth in some kind of climactic release but just stops.
“James” showcases violinist Vanina Andreani on kalimba and Guillaume Wickel’s clarinet playing in a unashamedly jaunty number, propelled by Secq’s circulating riff, before it’s back to more spacious atmosphere on the closing “Bysimh”, which again has the mighty double-bass as the grounded centre around which all the other instruments can move. This might be called ‘blues’ at a push but there’s no sense of introspective misery going on here, rather it is a talented quartet improvising around sturdy and unflinching hooks that anchor the pieces.
Astrïd have been functioning for 15 years, and in their current line-up since 2005, yet this is only their third album, which underlines their patience in gradually drawing out these pieces; this is music has been coaxed and needs time to be appreciated, rather than being a quick hit of the blues. They’ve given this music their time and love, and now it needs yours as well. (Jeremy Bye)