Muriel Grossmann

(CD - RRGEMS #07)

Review by Thom Jurek

In 2018, saxophonist Muriel Grossmann's fine Ibiza-based quartet issued Golden Rule on the tiny Estonian RRGems label. It showcased a band that had come fully into its own after three albums. Its passionate articulation of John Coltrane's technical and spiritual inspirations were woven through intensely focused rhythmic and globally infused harmonic aesthetics. Grossmann has worked with Serbian guitarist Radomir Milojkovic since Homecoming Reunion in 2007. Austrian bassist Gina Schwarz and Serbian drummer Uros Stamenkovic joined her in 2016 for three albums. That group is appended here by Catalonian Hammond B-3 organist Llorenç Barceló, whose playing creates a wide palette of tonal, rhythmic, and textural possibilities. Grossmann's eight compositions continue to evoke Coltrane as a touchstone, but they also embrace the polyrhythmic traditions of the African continent and filter their discoveries through the band's innate groove consciousness.

Opener and single "Okan ti Aye" is Yoruban for "heart of the world." It begins dramatically with a percussion orgy of trap kit, marimbas, kalimbas, and rumbling bass. Grossmann's melody quotes from Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun" and John Coltrane's "Alabama." Barceló enters with wafting chords and pulse-like stabs contrasting with Milojkovic's strident vamping. Halfway through, the tune shifts to become a hard-grooving post-bop jam that also references Nigerian high life and Afro-beat. "Union" starts out with Schwarz's circular yet songlike bass solo intro before Grossmann's soprano, along with kalimbas, harp, and Stamenkovic's drum kit, create a fluid yet airy pulse underneath. The band whispers darkly, like Miles Davis' In a Silent Way group playing with Alice Coltrane. "Water Bowl" commences with a slippery guitar vamp buoyed by Schwarz's woody bass swinging underneath. Hovering B-3 and layers of percussion frame the bassline as Grossmann's alto goes full-on blues wail in a loping, soulful melody. "Chase" is introduced by Milojkovic's six-string minor-key drone, rolling snares and tom-toms, thrumming single-string bass notes, and Grossmann's tenor; they offer a roiling intro before Barceló makes it all cook, transforming the melody into a swirling cross between funky desert blues and Afro-beat. The first half of "Afrika Mahgala" is a vehicle for Milojkovic as he alternates between multi-dimensional chord voicings, single-string plectrum, and overdubbed slide playing. Grossmann's long tenor solo is driven by Schwarz and Stamenkovic before they commingle with organ and guitar and dig into an infectious lyric hook. The intro to "Morning" is a blissed-out percussion confab as drums, kalimbas, marimbas, blocks, and more, entwine and caress one another before Grossmann and her tenor dig into the lower register for a solo based in North African (Middle Eastern) modalism with Milojkovic adding augmented blues licks above Barceló's and Schwarz's brooding ballast. A brief B-3 solo adds color and tension to the guitar break as the group's percussion prompts Grossmann to carry the tune out. On Reverence, Grossmann's fine band set aside fears they couldn't top Golden Rule. Here, their inspiration, communication, and profound exploration, result in a new watermark for excellence in jazz.

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