Gilles Grethen Quartet & Strings: State Of Mind

Jazz quartet of guitar, trumpet, bass and drums combines with strings to play variously lyrical, swinging and funky lines

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One often wonders what the collective state of mind of Luxembourg citizens is, surrounded by the EU but seemingly free of political shenanigans and routine international news-gathering. Maybe Luxembourgish guitarist Gilles Grethen, now Germany based, points to it in his balanced and often moving new album.

His first was the 2021 Time Suite, which developed a “classical” concept: the eponymous suite. State Of Mind, with two of its charts meriting short, separate introductions, extends this by employing strings added to the Grethen quartet and aiming at a fruitful summation of parts.

Jazz-with-strings so often means jazz trying to escape from a Hollywood style accompaniment. Not so here. Grethen uses an 11-piece string ensemble of routine constituents whose part in the proceedings is integral: it either establishes, refines, supports, intensifies or comments on the musical argument, and sometimes does all five.

There’s enough variation of tone to hear the album as a series of charts with connections. Grethen thought of writing the music for a big band, especially as the “classical” link is secured by the use of strings orchestrally and the demand for larger forces. They provide the sombre opening to Contemplation, the chorale-like blocks for Outside, the locomotion of Forgetful, the long-held chords on Until The Moon Went Down and the staccato darts for Delirium.

But their role should not, and cannot, be over-emphasised; Grethen’s method is to treat them with equivalence while not limiting his own or trumpeter and flugelhorn player Vincent Pinn’s exploratory paths, themselves underscored by Gabriele Basilico’s steadying bass and the bubbling drums of Michel Meis, which are often content with an undemonstrative rock beat. Keeping the 15 musicians even-keeled is nowhere better illustrated than in Transcendence, where the quartet races away from the orchestra only for the latter to keep up its sustenance before falling silent for the former to propel itself to its destination, led by guitar and horn.

Solos throughout are immaculate and replete with jazz feeling (an important point when different traditions are being fused), if tending towards introspection, albeit active. There’s a break-out moment towards the end of the opening Change but the strings soothe and decelerate to what becomes the overall mood; a calm and collected mentality.

Discography
Change; Transcendence; Intro To State Of Mind; State Of Mind; Delirium; Until The Moon Went Down; Intro To Forgetful; Forgetful; Outside; Contemplation (59.31)
Grethen (g); Vincent Pinn (t, flh); Gabriele Basilico (b); Michel Meis (d); Aya Kitaoka (vn); Julia Vicic (vla); Bea Magdalena Sallaberger (clo); Lukas Rudolph (b); and others. Belgium, 11-12 April 2022.
Double Moon Records DMCHR71414