However, whilst GRIO may allude to Africa in terms of rhythm, name, and rearrangements, for them jazz is still the landmark on the horizon. With the title of this first album, Music is Our Mistress, they are honoured follow in the footsteps of Duke Ellington (and his famous autobiography Music is My Mistress) and Ornette Coleman (and his no less well-known This Is Our Music). On top of these two spiritual patrons, we also have Charles Mingus to thank for their love of the “pocket-sized big band”, and Carla Bley and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra for their “sometimes hymn-like melodies” – and even hypnotic cycles like something from Steve Reich in “Gomorra Pulse”.
Yet beyond the allusions, the influences, the tributes, GRIO is also – in fact above all – a flow of humanity. In addition to the four founding members (Gérald Chevillon, Damien Sabatier, Joachim Florent, and drummer Antonin Leymarie, who has written two beautiful pieces for this album: “Cançao Do Grilo” and “Anima”), four new arrivals have also entered the world of the collective: trumpetists Aymeric Avice and Frederic Roudet, pianist Aki Rissanen, and trombonist Simon Girard. New recruits who are not actually that new, as they have often crossed paths with members of Imperial when playing with Jean Louis, François Courneloup, Radiation 10, la Baskour… More than just travelling companions, they are friends.
Because Imperial, whether as GRIO or Quartet, Orpheon or Pulsar, is about “friendship sustained through music and music that sustains friendship“. This may be another reason why Music is Our Mistress is so big- hearted and wild, and why it is so full of mischief, unexpected twists, and telepathic call-and-responses. It is because it embraces the idea of spiritual jazz in the original sense of the term: music sculpted by veritable kindred spirits.