Since 2007, Austrian saxophonist and composer Muriel Grossmann has been assembling a catalog of arresting, deeply moving spiritual jazz from her perch in Ibiza, Spain. While she derives direct inspiration from John Coltrane's example, she employs a unique harmonic and polyrhythmic approach to composition and improvisation. It draws equally on blues, soul, and Eastern and European folk traditions. Adept on soprano, alto, and tenor, her nine previous albums are all linked by a unified sense of musical purpose and labyrinthine explorations of space, texture, and melody.
Golden Rule is Grossmann's tenth album and it's deep. This is the third date with her current quartet, comprising Austrian bassist Gina Schwarz, Serbian guitarist Radomir Milojkovic, and Serbian drummer Uros Stamenkovic. The communicative intuition of this group is not only empathic, it seems telekinetic in its anticipation, coloration, and articulation of Grossmann's inspired compositions informed directly by meditation. The title-track opener commences with soft, squalling sound on the soprano saxophone, gently strummed chords, and a bassline that evokes "A Love Supreme" before Stamenkovic's double-timed multivalent rhythm attack. Grossmann offers an inverted quote from the Coltrane tune as a theme but moves off into a serpentine bluesy solo as Milojkovic delivers his trademark vamp drones. The swirl of sound languages at work here, particularly in the interplay between Schwarz and Stamenkovic, is propulsive and earthy, even as Grossmann and her guitarist find their way into the stratosphere before bringing it back home some 11 minutes later. No matter how intense the exchanges between players, the music remains warm, open, and welcoming. By contrast, her tenor horn on "Core" wraps itself in stuttering trancelike guitar arpeggios before they aggressively dig into modal blues and spiritual funk together. After the abstract opening statement on "Promise," Milojkovic delivers a jagged, inquiring solo that is as cavernous rhythmically as it is harmonically. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is on the nearly-15-minute "Traneing In," where guitar chords, clattering cymbals, and shimmering snares roil up around Schwarz's upright bass in what initially seems to be a psychedelic folk-rock tune. While the cadence circles, Grossmann's soprano begins its departure immediately above this luxuriant din, poetically exploiting the margins, transcending them, and bringing back new ones for her accompanists to explore. She is in constant motion, adding ballast, foundation, and risk to the simple melody, freely allowing the ensemble to whirl around her "singing" on the horn. Milojkovic's solo adds a pointillistic contrast as it weaves rock and jazz traditions through the bassline and crashing cymbal work establishing a wily Eastern groove. On "Trane," she multi-tracks her soprano and tenor horns in a mantra-esque statement backed by restrained waves of electric guitar, minimal bass, and percussion before the ensemble begins to play the skeletally architected meta-melody and Grossmann's delve into the gutbucket modal blues on the tenor. Golden Rule is an 87-minute journey; it soothes, provokes, exhorts, cajoles, and beckons the listener ever deeper into its inner articulations of peace and turbulence in Grossmann's always affirmative language that is as pregnant with spiritual meaning as it is breathtaking sophistication.