MURIEL GROSSMANN — UNIVERSAL CODE
LINER NOTES from the original album cover by Thom Jurek:
Since 2007, saxophonist and composer Muriel Grossmann has been releasing albums of uncommon quality and depth. After arriving in Ibiza from Barcelona in 2004, she has created a distinctively individual approach to spiritual jazz. Building on a sound developed in the 1960s by the Coltranes and others, Grossmann’s approach joins African music, modal jazz, gospel, blues, free-jazz and Eastern traditions with a fluid, nearly elastic polyrhythmic sensibility.
The Paris-born, Vienna-raised Grossmann believes our evolution towards enlightenment is already engraved in our being, our humanity. While physical DNA evidences it biologically, our path according to Buddhist belief, no matter how many lifetimes we inhabit, always moves towards an awakening that transcends, and ultimately frees us from DNA’s biological limitations. Music, a form of communication that exists beyond spoken language transcends its own formally notated DNA. Grossmann employs her experiential and learned musical and life knowledge, linking them to a profound desire to ease the suffering of others, and to encourage evolution toward enlightenment and freedom.
This music on Universal Code is long on contemplative, instrumental dexterity, as well as harmonic and rhythmic invention. Its spiritual aspirations are articulated via interrogative melodies, poignant solos, and interwoven grooves that resonate inside the listener’s ears, mind, and body. Universal Code features Grossmann’s quartet on six tracks that bookend three (“Transience,” “Essence,” and “Non-Duality”), with a quintet that includes double bassist Gina Schwarz. Belgrade-born guitarist Radomir Milojkovic has been working with Grossmann since 2002. His rounded tone and endless curiosity add immeasurably to the group’s questing approach. Serbian drummer Uros Stamenkovic and double bassist Gina Schwarz (herself an Austrian bandleader and recording artist) joined for 2016’s Natural Time, trademarking the collective’s unique approach. In 2018, Hammond B‑3 organist Llorenç Barcelo, from the neighbouring island Mallorca, joined the band, appearing on 2019’s Reverence, 2020’s Quiet Earth and 2021’s Union.
The music follows a winding aural road from intention to impression to perception, and from awareness to transformation and ultimately, transcendence. “Resonance” commences with a tom tom break, probing guitar chords and a B‑3 vamp. Grossmann’s soprano enters on the second chorus as the ensemble’s rhythms begin percolating. She rides the mode, creating an Eastern-tinged swing. Milojkovic’s snaky guitar break engages blues and postbop. The B‑3 bassline in “Clarity” is assertive atop glistening hi hat cymbals, a pulsing electric guitar vamp, and Grossmann’s soprano in midflight. The quartet interlocks in a different cadence on the bridge before she delivers a serpentine sax solo that slides around her bandmates before emerging in the center. The urgent “Interconnection” offers counter rhythms balanced by guitar and organ in call-and- response fashion while Grossmann solos. Her skeins of notes flow before her band’s incessant, driving motion breaks down into funky soul jazz while Milojkovic’s solo channels Grant Green.
Schwarz’s deep, resonant, woody tone introduces “Transience,” atop syncopated rim shots and a wafting organ groove before Grossmann’s wandering modal lyric offering modal statements from the Arab and Spanish worlds. Schwarz is a guiding presence on a glorious meld of modal jazz, spectral blues, spacious R&B, and polyrhythmic inquiry on “Non-Duality,” culminating in Grossmann’s authoritative, deeply expressive tenor. Schwarz adds a “walking” presence to “Essence” that transcends the trappings of 12 bar blues even as her bandmates revel in them.
The quartet returns with the more rhythmically propulsive “Liberation.” Introduced by a circular B‑3 bassline and a fluid guitar vamp, Grossmann’s tenor delivers the head with Stamenkovic’s kit flowing, filling and driving alongside her. Her tenor solo soars above the quartet’s spacious, nearly breathing grooves. “Post-Meditation” finds Grossmann on flute as well as tenor. The loose minor mode provides a solid blues flavor that Milojkovic transforms into jazz-blues with a funky solo. Grossmann’s knotty, labyrinthine tenor break traces his invention wedding both themes, accompanied only by Stamenkovic. Closer “Compassion” a nearly raucous party track, offers a lyrical, swinging midtempo ballad, alternating with a finger-popping rock with a soul vibe framed by marimbas, biting guitar and tenor sax. For Grossmann’s band, this spiritual journey ends with the celebration of arrival. These musicians communicate an aural, instructive journey through emotions, spiritual states, doubt, and awareness collectively and individually. Universal Code is an achievement. It frames their utterances, questions and discoveries in a visionary yet warmly welcoming approach that exponentially extends the spiritual jazz tradition in the 21st century.
~ Thom Jurek, is an author, poet, and senior writer All-Music Guide.
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