Portrait in Jazzpodium by Thorsten Meyer, Feb 2019

PORTRAIT by Thors­ten Mey­er for JAZZ PODIUM, Ger­ma­ny, Febru­ar 2019

Some­ti­mes it is coin­ci­den­ces and moods that point the way in new direc­tions. For the saxo­pho­nist and com­po­ser Muri­el Gross­mann, it was both musi­cal and bio­gra­phi­cal moments that paved the way for her release of her tenth record “Gol­den Rule”: “As long as I can remem­ber, I wan­ted to tra­vel, and I have done it sin­ce I could do it mys­elf, by car or motor­cy­cle. Sin­ce then I’ve always been on the road. I knew just about whe­re I wan­ted to go and then the way was lea­ding me. Then once, when I was again in Vien­na for a lon­ger time, I rea­li­zed that I did not want to stay the­re. It was always too cold. I need sun and the sea. I said, “That’s it! I dri­ve south. “A fri­end and I bought a bus and then we went. I only knew that I wan­ted to go to Moroc­co. But the bus col­lap­sed befo­re in Bar­ce­lo­na. Then I was stuck from one day to ano­t­her — and it was gre­at!

Born in Paris, but living in Vien­na sin­ce the age of 4, Muri­el Gross­mann under­took an intri­ca­te musi­cal jour­ney until that Bar­ce­lo­na trip. The father’s clas­si­cal record collec­tion pro­vi­ded ear­ly inspi­ra­ti­on, the first steps were made in dif­fe­rent ensem­bles with the flu­te, the first own songs in the sin­ger-song­wri­ter idi­om were writ­ten on the gui­tar. But the­re was more. The saxo­pho­ne exer­ted an insa­tia­ble fasci­na­ti­on, and after various detours Gross­mann then found her voice the­re: “With the saxo­pho­ne you can play all styles. At first I play­ed a lot of soul, R & B, world music, also jazz. I could try a lot, play­ed to a lot of records. Then it was clear.

Muri­el Grossmann’s CD releases are an evo­lu­tio­na­ry sto­ry. The roots of the various CDs are deve­lop­ments of pre­vious record­ings. The initi­al spark was the invol­un­ta­ry, and then so pionee­ring forced stay in Bar­ce­lo­na. The­re she met the Ser­bi­an gui­ta­rist Rado­mir Milo­j­ko­vic in 2002: “We com­ple­ment each other ins­a­nely. The­re is the same fire for the same music. It’s gre­at fun to play live tog­e­ther. We have a pas­si­on for working on pie­ces, no mat­ter what style it is. What he then brought to my music is that the­re is one who car­ri­es me. I can do it the way it should be. It’s also rare to find someo­ne who says, “Your music, wow. I want to work with you on it. “I get inspi­ra­ti­on for my music imme­dia­te­ly. I keep deve­lo­ping his idea, and he mine. This dyna­mic is ama­zing.

The two play­ed in lot of dif­fe­rent con­texts. In 2003 Gross­mann then went to Ibi­za to know the island and imme­dia­te­ly got into the sce­ne the­re and deci­ded to move the­re and Rado­mir caught up with her the­re in 2006. The island has been their cen­ter of life ever sin­ce. “Ibi­za is the Mec­ca of inspi­ra­ti­on for me. Becau­se of the light and the sea, the air, becau­se of the natu­re. I would wri­te com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent music if I had stay­ed in Vien­na. I could not have deve­lo­ped this music like that the­re. My music is very con­nec­ted with natu­re. Lis­ten­ing to my music with head­pho­nes makes you feel like you real­ly hear natu­re. It is pul­sa­ting. The­re is life in it.

In Ibi­za she ent­e­red the sce­ne right from the begin­ning, and met ano­t­her famous jazz musi­ci­an who set up his domici­le the­re: Joa­chim Kühn: “When I first came to the island, I came to a ses­si­on whe­re the­re were 20- 30 musi­ci­ans. It was a small room, all play­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and Joa­chim on the saxo­pho­ne right in the midd­le. I know him a lot on the saxo­pho­ne becau­se he always came with it to the ses­si­ons and we play­ed tog­e­ther. We then beca­me fri­ends, and I was often at his house. We then lis­tened through his incredi­ble record collec­tion, and of cour­se through his own records. He did over 300. He has a sto­ry to tell about every musi­ci­an becau­se he almost met ever­yo­ne. Eit­her play­ing, or in the neigh­bo­ring stu­dio, or on fes­ti­vals. And besi­des, he is such an inten­se per­son that he also has inten­se sto­ries. That was cer­tain­ly my big­gest musi­cal influ­ence. His har­mo­nic sys­tem also total­ly influ­en­ced me. In the time when I play­ed avant-gar­de, you have to ima­gi­ne it as if ever­ything around me had explo­ded. A com­ple­te reo­ri­en­ta­ti­on. And that’s how I star­ted wri­ting inten­si­ve­ly, of cour­se.

After making record­ings with her first quar­tet, Gross­mann got in touch with other musi­ci­ans through Joa­chim Kühn: drum­mer Chris­ti­an Lil­lin­ger and dou­ble bas­sist Robert Land­fer­mann.

They play­ed tog­e­ther at the Eivis­sa Jazz Fes­ti­val in 2011 and released the 2013 record­ing on the CD “Awa­ke­n­ing”. A pro­gram­ma­tic tit­le, becau­se the record­ing and its con­se­quen­ces trig­ge­red some­thing, which drew its cir­cles until the new CD “Gol­den Rule”: “The encoun­ter with Joa­chim first made my stan­dards fre­er. And then it went right into the avant-gar­de, and I came to musi­ci­ans like Chris­ti­an Lil­lin­ger and Robert Land­fer­mann. That’s when I took a dif­fe­rent turn, and that came from enga­ging in this medi­ta­ti­on. That was at the time of “Awa­ke­n­ing”. The influ­ence of spi­ri­tu­al jazz alrea­dy is audi­ble.

The cen­tral land­mark was the next CD “Earth Tones” (2015). Here Gross­mann worked for the first time with very spe­cial dro­nes as scaf­fol­ding and at the same time inspi­ra­ti­on for the musi­cal events. During a win­ter in a house in the moun­tains, sur­roun­ded by a lot of forest and litt­le civi­li­za­ti­on, a gong-CD was play­ed late at night. The idea for the Dro­nes was born: “The­re is an idea behind it what I want to wri­te about. This idea comes from the fact that I reflect a lot on dif­fe­rent things. Some are inward, some out­ward. With “Earth Tones” I thought I nee­ded a mes­sa­ge for the peop­le that we all help tog­e­ther and take care of the earth. And so the respec­tive album is crea­ted imme­dia­te­ly. It is not that I wri­te this today and that tomor­row, but the con­cept is crea­ted in a very short time, usual­ly in one day. At “Earth Tones” I first recor­ded the­se dro­nes, line­ar­ly. Not per pie­ce, but per album. I star­ted with the tam­bu­ra as a base. The con­cept was that I wan­ted to wri­te some­thing for the Earth, and sup­po­sed­ly Earth has the tone of C Sharp/D Flat. Of cour­se, I can not veri­fy that (laughs), but then I took that and wro­te a over­to­ne-tone series whe­re I chan­ged just one tone, and assi­gned the pie­ces to it. The­re­fo­re, the pie­ces also all have a gra­du­al chan­ge in pitch. That’s always very important to me. It’s like a sca­le swin­ging in the back­ground of the sui­te. If you lis­ten to the album from start to finish, it’s a big sca­le. So I knew in which keys I wan­ted to wri­te the pie­ces. I then play­ed all the pie­ces with the tam­bu­ra first. Now, of cour­se, a dyna­mic came out, which star­ted quiet­ly, slow­ly increa­sed and final­ly drop­ped again. And then I took the next instru­ment, and then the next, and so on. Then I had all my dro­nes and took my saxo­pho­ne and play­ed with it. From front to back. And then Rade made the gui­tar dro­nes, and then Chris­ti­an and Robert later play­ed on it.

Each CD can be unders­tood as a sui­te. The indi­vi­du­al pie­ces always fit under an over­all arc and a reso­nant con­tent the­me. For this music, it requi­res co-musi­ci­ans who sup­port this way of play­ing and working 100%, and besi­des Milo­j­ko­vic, Gross­mann has cho­sen sin­ce the 2016 album “Natu­ral Time” for this quar­tet Milo­j­ko­vics com­pa­tri­ot Uros Sta­men­ko­vic on drums and Gross­manns Vien­na col­league Gina Schwarz on bass. “After “Earth Tones” I wan­ted to wri­te some­thing that had this medi­ta­ti­ve idea, but also swing, and Rado­mir then told me to call Uros. They have known each other for a very long time. For me he is my Elvin Jones (laughs). He is a gre­at drum­mer. Of cour­se we also had oppor­tu­nities to grow tog­e­ther. At first we went on tour with “Natu­ral Time”. And then he’s here for three mon­ths every sum­mer. I just brought Gina becau­se I always wan­ted to do some­thing with her. She is a monu­ment! What a for­cé she has! And her phra­sing is always “Jazz”. We do not need to talk much about that. She always play­ed as I like it any­way. Alt­hough she other­wi­se plays very dif­fe­rent music too. But she has such a Groo­ve, such strong fin­gers! It’s not so easy with this music, whe­re you have to play 15 minu­tes through.

Gol­den Rule” is the third CD of the cur­rent quar­tet, and here the dro­ne princip­le, as alrea­dy on the pre­de­ces­sor “Momen­tum” (2017) is inte­gra­ted in ano­t­her way: “The Dro­nes come out of the play. Sin­ce then I have heard the pie­ces after record­ing and then I know what I want to have on each one. First and fore­most, the sounds are important. I keep the­se dro­nes more or less secret, in their com­po­si­ti­on. The lis­tener can get curious what instru­ments are play­ed, or even sud­den­ly per­cei­ve some­thing. On “Momen­tum” the­re are e.g super­im­po­sed dou­ble bas­ses. In “Gol­den Rule” Marim­ba, Kalim­ba, it is also more in the Afri­can direc­tion. That’s how I can play with the har­mo­nies. I give the quar­tet the­se har­mo­nic sound she­ets. That’s some­thing from Col­tra­ne. The song gets ther­e­by a modal car­pet. In the accom­pany­ment, I can use then dif­fe­rent tones, and like this a sound spec­trum unfolds.

Muri­el Gross­mann does not want to deny the influ­ence of John and Ali­ce Col­tra­ne, on the con­tra­ry: In “Tra­ne” and Tran­eing in “she expli­citly takes the hat off of the two. “Alt­hough I always had the fee­ling that this deve­lop­ment came out of me, Coltrane’s music has always given me so much, and I wan­ted to say thank you, a thank you for what he gave me in life. ”

With “Gol­den Rule”, Muri­el Gross­mann goes a step fur­ther in terms of the publi­ci­ty of her music. Sin­ce 2007 she has been releasing her CDs on her own label ‘Dream­land Records’. She appre­cia­tes the maxi­mum artis­tic free­dom, both in terms of music and the lay­out of the CDs, which so far have all been deco­ra­ted with pic­tures of her and her child­ren. For “Gol­den Rule” the­re ope­ned a new per­spec­tive. The vinyl label ‘RR Gems Records’ released a dou­ble LP with a dif­fe­rent lay­out two mon­ths befo­re the CD reléa­se, with an ali­enated cover pho­to a Litt­le ori­en­ta­ted towards Col­tra­nes Impul­se! Vinyls, very sui­ta­ble for the den­se and mul­ti-face­ted music of “Gol­den Rule”.

But Muri­el Gross­mann is alrea­dy one step ahead. Ano­t­her quar­tet album with drum­mer Wolf­gang Rei­sin­ger and bas­sist Peter Her­bert will be avail­ab­le for release in 2019, and the next album with her quar­tet is alrea­dy recor­ded:

This will be the apo­theo­sis of ever­ything that was men­tio­ned befo­re, and it will defi­ni­te­ly put ever­ything in the right per­spec­tive and give mea­ning to the who­le sto­ry. It’s just a con­ti­nui­ty sin­ce “Earth Tones”. The­re, ever­ything was dedi­ca­ted to the earth to rai­se our awa­reness of our envi­ron­ment. “Natu­ral Time” then says, “Find your own rhythm, your talent and pass it on to the world. What you have is valu­able, and it should be gea­red toward hel­ping others. “Momen­tum” is the sequel to this: ‘What would hap­pen if ever­yo­ne does that? Which momen­tum ari­ses then? The­re are the good ten­den­ci­es all over, but they mus tri­se over the cri­ti­cal mass. “Gol­den Rule” is about what you need to achie­ve this til­ting. It is not wit­hout this princip­le: “Think / Say / Do only what you also would like to recei­ve from othe­res!” You have to see it from the insi­de out.

The exi­t­ing sto­ry of Muri­el Gross­mann will be con­ti­nued.

Thors­ten Mey­er