Photo credit: Bernard Sammut
Austrian jazz saxophonist and composer Muriel Grossmann is proud to announce Devotion, her latest LP and first for Third Man Records, which will be released on December 1. To ring in the announcement, Grossmann has shared new single “Calm,” which is available to stream now via all DSPs. The modern, wide-ranging collection spans a host of genres in its influences – soul, psychedelia, an array of jazz styles and Indian music among them – but each of its seven tracks find an anchor in Grossmann’s fluid saxophone runs. That its inspiration was found in Grossmann’s Buddhist meditation practice is evident in every moment.
The word "Devotion," the title of saxophonist/composer Muriel Grossmann's new album, is defined by Webster’s as "religious fervor, piety," or "an act of prayer or private worship." Further, it carries "the act of dedicating something to a cause, enterprise, or activity; the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal." Grossmann's music richly illustrates both shades of the word's meaning. Devotion is a dedicated aural engagement with extremely talented musicians. It reflects a deep spirituality in composition, expression discovery through kaleidoscopic, 21st century jazz.
Grossmann was born in Paris, raised in Austria, and began classical flute studies at five. She didn't begin playing the saxophone until she was 21, and for years, only the alto and soprano. She taught herself by playing along with records by Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and Gerry Mulligan. After picking up the tenor years later she immersed herself into the music of Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Stanley Turrentine and Illinois Jacquet, all of whom influenced the soul jazz era. She embodied those influences as signifiers for one of the most identifying aspects of Grossmann's sound: The reliance on groove. After completing formal music studies, she played and toured with various funk, R&B, world music, and jazz groups. Grossmann moved to Spain in 2002, and began leading her own bands.
Two years later she relocated to Ibiza, her base ever since. The atmosphere of the tropical island locale and its multivalent culture influenced her journey as an artist. Her debut as a leader in 2008 with the record Quartet appeared on her own Dreamland Records. Then, as now, Grossmann's deeply committed DIY aesthetic supervises every aspect of recording, production and presentation including painting her record covers. She cut it with a quartet that included Belgrade-born guitarist Radomir Milojkovic, her constant collaborator ever since and the rhythm section composed of Marko Jelaca on drums and David Marroquin on bass. An exercise in crystalline, swinging post bop, it drew positive notice from the European music press and resulted in her playing more gigs. 2010's Birth of the Mystery moved outside musically, without sacrificing the trademark welcoming harmonic sensibility. 2016's Natural Time with Milojkovic, double bassist Gina Schwarz and drummer Uros Stamenkovic, offered an airy, open, engagement with drones and endlessly circular rhythms. 2017's Momentum, with its flourishes of spiritual soul jazz, bluesy guitars and extended compositions, was regarded by some critics as a modern jazz masterpiece.
2018's Golden Rule reached a new watermark. Grossmann played tenor and soprano saxophone; its music was dedicated to the influences of John Coltrane - check the stunning soprano vehicle, "Traneing In." Several critics remarked on her ability to make seriously sophisticated jazz sound fun. Her quartet's disciplined collaboration resulted from playing in front of very diverse audiences, especially at home. They offered audiences a testifying, polyrhythmic, and dramatically explosive brand of spiritual jazz. 2019's album Reverence added Hammond B-3 organist Lorenç, Barcelo to excellent effect. The bubbling grooves generated by guitar and organ were employed with layers of percussion and droning basslines, updating the astral jazz of Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. She continued reconsidering her earlier music with this approach too. 2020's Quiet Earth included four long compositions, two of which were substantially revisioned versions of tunes that originally appeared on the 2013 album Awakening. 2021's Union - sans Schwarz - offered more substantially reworked versions of earlier compositions that had evolved from having been performed live for years. 2022's Universal Code, found Schwarz rejoining the group for three tracks. Throughout the band seamlessly wed spiritual and modal modern jazz-explorations to deep, often blues-tinged, airy grooves.
Devotion, Grossmann's debut for Jack White's U.S.-based Third Man Records label, continues her musical evolution, arriving at a sound that wears inspirations transparently, but in practice, is markedly original holistic work. It is titled after Grossmann's experience of a natural sense of devotion that arose from her Buddhist meditation practice. She says, "noticing that sounds are dissolving into the vast empty space, the true nature of reality. Just as thoughts are always dissolving into the stillness of our mind, we slowly realize that the essence of our mind is clarity... This realization puts us on the opener "Absolute Truth," spends the first two of its nearly 22 minutes with abstract slide guitar, hovering B-3 ellipses, and a pulse of softly generated, pulsing rimshots. When Grossmann enters on tenor, she is playing a hard bop vamp that resembles a late 1950s Blue Note date. Boquera lays down a supporting pattern that Milojkovic appends empathetically. The drums begin driving, as the band emerges with a circular groove that touches on rock, modal and soul jazz formalism, with advanced rhythmic syncopation. Its various stages find the saxophonist and her bandmates - particularly Milojkovic soloing with abandon, even as they reinforce a trance-inducing groove. "Calm" is introduced in quiet abstraction from guitar and organic percussion before Boquera, Milojkovic, and Grossmann assert a dynamic vamp. An edgy blues-tinged rock guitar riff prods organ and tenor sax in a slowly unfurling meditation on soulful funk. "Care" is organ-fueled soul jazz, an excellent showcase for Boquera's advanced playing as Stamenkovic's slippery, fluid, snare and hi-hat breaks urge him on. When Grossmann joins to solo, she moves across the R&B of her early influences, Sonny Rollins assertive, raw lyricism, and her own post bop vocabulary.
"Knowledge and Wisdom" is kissed by psychedelia, Indian music (Grossmann plays tamboura and drones). Opening with spectral percussion, B-3 and fingerpicked electric guitars, its bluesy rock frame breathes its pulse as Grossmann's lithe flute and soprano horn find and elucidate a contemplative lyrical progression. In "All Heart" Latin and African polyrhythms collide, swirl and combine in forceful, righteously funky, hard swinging post bop. The title track's flute, martial snare, and organic hand percussion recall the Rising Sun Fife and Drum Ensemble (originally led by early blues innovator Otha Turner, and currently by granddaughter Sharde Thomas) in evoking the spirit of field hollers that evolved into the Delta blues. Milojkovic honors the tradition with a winding slide blues investigation buoyed by Stamenkovic's punchy drums and Boquera's edgy B-3. Grossmann's alto wanders across terrain combining modal jazz, funk, and soul jazz, as the quartet begin to open the mode and journey with her - check Milojkovic's spacey slide runs before Grossmann returns to the jaunty theme before fading it out.
Closer "Mother of All" is introduced by the group's modal crescendo led by the tenor. Grossmann is a devoted mother, and her vocation has certainly influenced her music. In Buddhist thought, because of reincarnation, we have all been mothers to virtually every being across limitless time, and consequently been mothered by them too. The lyric line, carried by sax and organ is framed in illustrative chord voicings from Milojkovic and almost constantly rolling drums that never lose the rhythmic thread. Milojkovic solos first, offering knotty arpeggios in a punchy run that accents the changes - one can hear the influences of Grant Green and Pat Martino in his playing. Grossmann's adventurous tenor solo weds forceful yet intricate post bop with modal Eastern jazz and mutant hard bop - ala Sonny Rollins - while the band swings like mad around her.
Devotion is the sound of this group's seemingly limitless brand of sonic inquiry through Grossmann's compositions. This album simultaneously offers the sound of an ensemble that has perfected the collaborative process. They chart initially amorphous sonic terrains to establish a union between the process of creative inquiry and discovery to deliver transcendence across the universe of music itself.
- Absolute Truth
- Knowledge & Wisdom
- All Heart
- Mother of All