About this Album — 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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