What I knew was: I want to be in the sun!” — Muriel in a mica interview June 21, 2021 with Markus Deisenberger

WHAT I KNEW WAS: I WANT TO BE IN THE SUN!” — MURIEL GROSSMANN in a mica inter­view with Mar­kus Dei­sen­ber­ger June 21, 2021 ori­gi­nal in English

In Lon­don, the epi­cen­ter of the spi­ri­tu­al jazz boom, the Vien­nese saxo­pho­nist and com­po­ser MURIEL GROSSMANN is con­si­de­red a hot share. She publis­hes on the renow­ned Lon­don indie label “Jazz­man” and GILLES PETERSON is her fan. The fact that she is not yet per­cei­ved in this coun­try as it deser­ves due to her out­stan­ding work could be due to the fact that she now lives with­drawn in Ibi­za not exact­ly loo­king for the hype that her last albums have cau­sed. GROSSMANN spo­ke to Mar­kus Dei­sen­ber­ger about the “Dro­ne Orches­tra”, bur­ning ses­si­ons with JOACHIM KÜHN and her per­so­nal Ibiza.

Let us first talk about the John Col­tra­ne com­pa­ri­son that has been tried again and again in the press: does it flat­ter you or does it annoy you?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Well, basi­cal­ly I’m hap­py when peop­le who lis­ten to our music are remin­ded of John Col­tra­ne. Per­so­nal­ly, I do not share this com­pa­ri­son, becau­se the­re is only one John Col­tra­ne and what he has achie­ved can­not be sur­pas­sed. But every musi­ci­an loves Col­tra­ne and is inspi­red by his work. His life­work is the­re for us out in the open. How to inte­gra­te that into your own expe­ri­ence, trans­la­te it into music and make some­thing per­so­nal out of it, in the way your music sounds and how you play your instru­ment, that is the chal­len­ge. But as I said: If what we do reminds of Col­tra­ne, that’s real great.

But do you find the com­pa­ri­son — qui­te apart from being flat­te­red — appro­pria­te in terms of sound and musi­cal direction?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Actual­ly, I find it very dif­fe­rent. When you hear Col­tra­ne and my last records side by side, you can’t com­pa­re them. The­re is a big dif­fe­rence in sound. But I have a simi­lar fee­ling when I lis­ten to Coltrane’s music and when I make my music. I find mys­elf in my music as well as in Coltrane’s music.

As for spirituality?

Muri­el Gross­mann: When I hear his music, I immedia­te­ly feel good. And the ener­gy that he brings across with his quar­tet is the one that I also look for in my music. But as I said: the way he plays can­not be com­pa­red to the way I play.

In order to deve­lop this spe­cial ener­gy, you need a good band as a soloist. Your last records have this won­der­ful groo­ve that is remi­nis­cent of “Bit­ches Brew” or “In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis. You have spo­ken of a “dro­ne orches­tra” several times. What do you mean with that? As a soloist with such a band and their dro­nes, you feel as if you are being car­ri­ed by a cloud?

Muri­el Gross­mann: You have to dif­fe­ren­tia­te: One is the excel­lent band, the other is the “Dro­ne Orches­tra”, which I play on the record mys­elf. I crea­ted the “Dro­ne Orches­tra” to have a base that our band would play over. It’s some­thing very per­so­nal that deve­lo­ped during the time when I was lis­tening to a lot from Ali­ce Col­tra­ne, who always expan­ded her sound with exo­tic instru­ments, the tam­bour for examp­le, and other things that were play­ing in the back­ground. From lis­tening to this music end­less­ly and having an inten­se desi­re to play several instru­ments, this then came about. On my first record with “Dro­ne Orches­tra”, “Earth­to­nes”, I play­ed instru­ments such as kalim­ba, ngo­ni, kra­kebs, bala­fon, sar­an­gi and tam­bur befo­re­hand. Today it’s exact­ly the other way around: I play the “Dro­ne Orches­tra” for the band after­wards. So, what you hear is matched to the music.

What if you play live? 

Muri­el Gross­mann: I don’t have any musi­ci­ans who play that. But that would be ano­t­her step. The “Dro­ne Orches­tra” makes the music sound per­so­nal and in a cer­tain direc­tion that could be descri­bed as spi­ri­tu­al jazz.

How did you assem­ble the band? I assu­me you know Gina Schwarz from your time in Vienna?

Muri­el Gross­mann: I used to play with other peop­le. At the time when I was working on the com­po­si­ti­ons of “Natu­ral Time” I wan­ted to bring more rhythm into my music, a steady groo­ve. Befo­re that I play­ed avant-gar­de, which was more based on Ornet­te Cole­man, had a band with Chris­ti­an Lil­lin­ger and Robert Land­fer­man. Then “Awa­ke­n­ing” came out, then “Earth­to­nes” came out, which I also did with them — that was the album that made a tran­si­ti­on to the spi­ri­tu­al. I’ve always been wri­ting spi­ri­tu­al songs, but the way we per­for­med them was avant-gar­de. At some point I just wan­ted more dri­ve. I’ve worked with gui­ta­rist Rado­mir Milo­j­ko­vic for twen­ty years and we tal­ked about who was a good drum­mer. He brought in Uros Sta­men­ko­vic, whom he has known sin­ce child­hood. I also knew him from my time in Bar­ce­lo­na. And then I sug­gested Gina becau­se I appre­cia­te her and know her from my time in Vien­na. She is very ener­ge­tic, and even though she does her own things, she always brings herself 100 per­cent, which I real­ly appre­cia­te. So it came to the quar­tet with which we brought out “Natu­ral Time”, “Momen­tum”, “Gol­den Rule”, “Rever­ence” and “Quiet Earth” and now in June we are releasing “Uni­on”. Sin­ce “Rever­ence” we have grown into a quin­tet becau­se I invi­ted a Ham­mond play­er who lives in Mal­lor­ca and with whom I have alrea­dy play­ed other things: Llo­renç Bar­celó. With it, the sound of our music beca­me even more diver­se and authentic.

Your album “Gol­den Rule” was named “Record of the Year 2018” by UK VIBE maga­zi­ne and nomi­na­ted by the pres­ti­gious Gil­les Peter­sons World­wi­de Awards. Was that an uplif­ting moment?

Muri­el Gross­mann: That was main­ly due to the vinyl release. I’ve made so many records befo­re, but always only on CD, on my own label Dream­land­re­cords. Then in 2017 the peop­le at RR Gems approa­ched me. With them I did the “Gol­den Rule” LP. Becau­se of the LP, my music found a real­ly broad audi­ence. That means the moment my music came out on vinyl and the label did a real­ly gre­at pro­mo­ti­on job, it made waves and met a wide audi­ence. I gai­ned audio­phi­le peop­le, loy­al and warm lis­teners who stay with you when they have found you. I did­n’t rea­li­ze how many the­re are who appre­cia­te that. I did­n’t rea­li­ze that until the vinyl came out. I’ve always thought my music would fit bet­ter on vinyl, but I could­n’t do it alo­ne. I’ve always play­ed gigs, made records and com­po­sed. But when maga­zi­nes like UK Vibe or peop­le like Gil­les Peter­son sud­den­ly reco­gni­ze your work, that’s gre­at, becau­se it opens up the pos­si­bi­li­ty of your music being noti­ced by more peop­le, reaching more peop­le. Every musi­ci­an likes it when his or her music is heard. The spi­ri­tu­al jazz revi­val cer­tain­ly hel­ped too.

How did “Ele­va­ti­on” the com­pi­la­ti­on released on “Jazz­man” come about?

Muri­el Gross­mann: At “Jazz­man” I beca­me awa­re of RR Gems. They sold “Gol­den Rule” through their web­site and then con­ta­c­ted me at some point. First, we released a sin­gle with two songs, a live ver­si­on and one from the album. Then they sug­gested we bring some­thing out tog­e­ther. I intro­du­ced them to all sorts of things. It was only pos­si­ble to do old things becau­se the new tit­les were under con­tract with RR Gems. You cho­se tracks from “Momen­tum” and “Natu­ral Time”, I chan­ged the order a bit, and in the end, we were both satis­fied. I think we’ll do some­thing tog­e­ther again in the future becau­se it was a very nice collaboration.

You lived in Vien­na for a long time, but then tur­ned your back on Vien­na to emi­gra­te to Ibi­za via Bar­ce­lo­na. What exact­ly brought you to Ibiza?

Muri­el Gross­mann: I am someo­ne who likes to tra­vel. I love the sun and back then in Vien­na I had long drea­med of moving south to the sea. I left Vien­na with no spe­ci­fic plan of whe­re to go. What I did know, howe­ver, was: I want to be in the sun. And I left to focus ful­ly on the music and find my own band. I first lan­ded in Bar­ce­lo­na and stay­ed the­re for a year and a half. In the sum­mer I took the boat to Ibi­za, got into a live club and was hired for the who­le com­ing sea­son. The offer was valid every evening for five mon­ths. During this time, I dis­co­ve­r­ed the island for mys­elf and I deci­ded to stay.

Accord­ing to the cli­ché, Ibi­za is known for its spraw­ling par­ties and lounge music at the after-hours. What does your Ibi­za look like? 

Muri­el Gross­mann: My Ibi­za has not­hing to do with what peop­le usual­ly talk about in con­nec­tion with Ibi­za. For me it’s about natu­re, sea, smells, peace, quiet, beau­ty and of cour­se the sun, which is always the­re. This is my Ibiza.

Do you need the retre­at to be creative? 

Muri­el Gross­mann: If you have such a place of retre­at, it’s the best place to com­po­se. The­re I have the saxo­pho­nes, the pia­no, the dou­ble bass, the drums, many, many instru­ments, records, a small stu­dio. But when I hear melo­dies, chords or bass lines in my head, it does­n’t necessa­ri­ly have to be in my house, it can also be at a gig in Hel­sin­ki, whe­re I wri­te down a new com­po­si­ti­on, in the car, in the hotel room or during the sound check. In order to work it out pro­per­ly, I then need to with­draw. The island has con­tri­bu­t­ed a lot to this.

The pia­nist and com­po­ser Joa­chim Kühn, who is a friend of yours and who also lives on the island, once said that Ibi­za is “the abso­lu­te anti-jazz island”. When you con­si­der their gig plan, it does­n’t sound like “anti-jazz” at first. They play up to twen­ty gigs a mon­th, pro­bab­ly around 150 con­certs a year … 

Muri­el Gross­mann: Just like you, Joa­chim was refer­ring to an image that Ibi­za pro­jects out­wards. The image that peop­le com­mon­ly asso­cia­te with the island. Ibi­za is a tou­ris­tic island. In a nor­mal year the island is full for six mon­ths. We play the­re every night and work hard. For us as live jazz musi­ci­ans, that is the most important thing: to play live every evening. And you can do that here. This is a strong sea­son that makes it pos­si­ble. Of cour­se, I have litt­le oppor­tu­ni­ty to play my own music in Ibi­za. What I play here is still jazz. The­re are many clubs and restau­rants, hotel bars, pri­va­te events and ver­nis­sa­ges whe­re we some­ti­mes play our own music. But what we play most of the time is clas­si­cal jazz.


Muri­el Gross­mann: Yes. Music by Les­ter Young, Count Basie, Cole­man Haw­kins, Duke Elling­ton, Illi­nois Jac­quet. Music that also extends into soul jazz. We try to respect the limits of style and the achie­ve­ments that have to be made to play this music. But the island isn’t that “anti-jazzy” eit­her. At the time I met Joa­chim, he was in ses­si­ons every week. Bur­ning ses­si­ons by twen­ty per­cus­sio­nists and drum­mers, him and me. That was the purest free jazz kett­le. The­re were litt­le jazz bars whe­re he and I play­ed too. He also gave his own con­certs here. Only last year he play­ed in a beau­ti­ful, lar­ge hall. Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner play­ed here at the famous jazz fes­ti­val, which is cele­bra­ting its 33rd edi­ti­on this year. There’s a second fes­ti­val I’m also doing to get peop­le like Nas­heet Waits and Joe San­ders here. They have also play­ed here. Many musi­ci­ans visit the island every year.

So, can you ima­gi­ne your life as being strict­ly divi­ded into two parts? Six mon­ths of hard work with almost one gig per evening with clas­si­cal jazz, the rest of the time with­drawn to com­po­se in peace and pre­pa­re or edit your own music?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Usual­ly it’s so sepa­ra­te, yes: we play every day bet­ween May and Novem­ber, the rest of the year the­re is a lot of quiet. In win­ter I have time to post-pro­cess an album that was recor­ded in sum­mer with the dro­nes, I can select or com­po­se pie­ces that record the dro­nes, edit albums to the point whe­re they can appe­ar. But last year, of cour­se, the bounda­ries have been blurred …

Whe­re do I have to go to expe­ri­ence Muri­el Gross­mann like she plays on her albums?

Muri­el Gross­mann: On the neigh­bo­ring islands and on the main­land, whe­re I am invi­ted. In the nor­mal pla­ces and to the fes­ti­vals whe­re others play or play­ed befo­re Coro­na, like in Hel­sin­ki, Tal­lin, Copen­ha­gen … I was also invi­ted to Eng­land and a big tour was plan­ned, which unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly — like so many other things — did not take place. During Coro­na I was also invi­ted to Paris. The nor­mal inter­na­tio­nal pla­ces whe­re others also play. A jazz fes­ti­val that was plan­ned for Febru­a­ry in Mal­lor­ca has now been post­po­ned to July. This is the next con­cert with my music. This time I do not belie­ve and hope that it will be post­po­ned. Sim­ply clo­sing is no lon­ger pos­si­ble. Mal­lor­ca needs tou­rism, we need tourism.

How can you ima­gi­ne your encoun­ters with Joa­chim Kühn on the island? Do you drink tea tog­e­ther and lis­ten to Ornet­te Cole­man records?

Muri­el Gross­mann [laughs]: Exact­ly like that. It used to be that I met him in a ses­si­on and we “burnt” tog­e­ther, then we beca­me friends and I came to him for tea, brought coo­kies with me, he play­ed his new album for me and I play­ed mine for him. Or I ask him if I can hear some­thing from his old days with Jen­ny-Clar­ke or with Cole­man. Then he plays for me and other things that have not yet come out and may come out one day, inclu­ding very old things with his bro­ther Rolf. It’s an extre­me­ly casu­al exchan­ge that still inspi­res me a lot. Just thin­king about him inspi­res me becau­se he’s such a tre­men­dous­ly good artist. See­ing him in per­son is even more inten­se becau­se he has an incredi­b­ly diver­se collec­tion of records. We hear a lot tog­e­ther. He’s recor­ded with ever­yo­ne — even with Stan Getz. The topics are end­less. He’s still extre­me­ly crea­ti­ve, com­po­ses and prac­ti­ces every day, has his routine.

Have you ever con­si­de­red doing some­thing together? 

Muri­el Gross­mann: I would like to invi­te him to one of my records as a guest musi­ci­an. Other­wi­se not real­ly. He has a lot of pro­jects and has an up-to-date con­tract with Act that dic­ta­tes exact­ly what he brings out when and how.

You men­tio­ned the revi­val of spi­ri­tu­al jazz. Much of it comes from Eng­land. In com­pa­ri­son, your music sounds more rela­xed and less opu­lent than z. B. that of Kama­si Washing­ton. More at rest. Is that what the island does? 

Muri­el Gross­mann: Yes, of cour­se. My music is not big city music. But I am also par­ti­cu­lar­ly for­tu­n­a­te to have found musi­ci­ans with whom I get on well, who get on well with each other and who con­tri­bu­te in a very inti­ma­te way to the who­le, to the visi­on of how it should sound to me, which I real­ly like making hap­py. The com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on is right.

Does the label “Spi­ri­tu­al Jazz” even fit?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Let’s put it this way: If no label were necessa­ry, I would pre­fer it, becau­se it’s just music. The labels should be stuck on by others. Spi­ri­tu­al jazz is a sub-gen­re that I’ve heard a lot, hear a lot and also love. I got invol­ved in this style very ear­ly on and it was fea­tured on my albums very ear­ly on, regard­less of whe­ther I was still play­ing avant-gar­de or not. Ali­ce Col­tra­ne, John Col­tra­ne, Pha­ro­ah San­ders, I’ve heard many musi­ci­ans mys­elf who can be clas­si­fied in this style, if you will. But it was­n’t until 2012 that I star­ted wri­ting music that was more inspi­red by Ali­ce and John Col­tra­ne. I brought tran­ce-like repe­ti­ti­ons, pen­ta­to­nic sca­les and the eth­nic influ­en­ces of dif­fe­rent cul­tures into the music.

The world music draft was also a plan?

Muri­el Gross­mann: That was also a plan, becau­se I mys­elf lis­ten to music from all over the world, from Afri­ca, India, over­to­ne music, Bul­ga­ri­an choirs, Japa­ne­se music. I lis­ten to a wide ran­ge of music and wan­ted to take this more into account in my music. In addi­ti­on, I have a love for instru­ments. I own a lot.

How many are many? 

Muri­el Gross­mann [laughs]: A lot. Drums, per­cus­sion. Flu­tes of all kinds, bam­boo flu­tes or trans­ver­se flu­tes, over­to­ne flu­tes. dif­fe­rent bas­ses, gembri, a dou­ble bass, tab­la, a tam­bu­ra, a sar­an­gi. I don’t know whe­re to stop I like the sound of each and every one of the­se instru­ments. That’s why I star­ted an album with the instru­ments: “Earth­to­nes”. I kept that as an ele­ment in the fol­lowing albums and deve­lo­ped it fur­ther. Ever­ything then came tog­e­ther in the record “Natu­ral Time”. I would say that with “Rever­ence” the ent­i­re ran­ge of the dro­ne orches­tra was developed.

Would you descri­be yourself as a spi­ri­tu­al person?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Ever­yo­ne is spi­ri­tu­al becau­se that is our natu­re. All of us, even tho­se who don’t think in the­se terms at all, are spi­ri­tu­al bein­gs. We have a desi­re to do good things. We all want to be hap­py. We want to do the right things, help others, stri­ve for hig­her goals and to fur­ther deve­lop our hig­her values ​​and ide­as that are our own. That is the natu­re that we are try­ing to implement.

You are a pho­to­gra­pher, and as such have worked in Vien­na for maga­zi­ne WIENER, you paint — z. B. the covers of most of your albums — so you are an artist with a wide ran­ge of dif­fe­rent art forms. Is music the amal­gam that holds all other crea­ti­ve acti­vi­ties together?

Muri­el Gross­mann: An inte­res­ting thought. For me music is the thread that never bro­ke in my life. Even if I worked as a pho­to­gra­pher in bet­ween: The music stay­ed. But I mys­elf do not think in terms. I just do it. The nice thing about music is that you can con­cep­tua­li­ze it, talk about it. But you can also just lis­ten, be in the moment.

Final­ly, a few words about the album “Uni­on”, which is about to be released on RR Gems?

Muri­el Gross­mann: “Uni­on” came about from a tour befo­re Coro­na on Mal­lor­ca. I wan­ted to record the band live at the con­certs, but it did­n’t work out for logisti­cal rea­sons. I then deci­ded to go to the stu­dio on the spur of the moment and reser­ve a few days when we were free. It was a record­ing ses­si­on of our live set at the time, more for archi­val pur­po­ses, but with ever­ything that star­ted after that, I deci­ded to bring it out as I was unab­le to record and release a sequel to the album “Rever­ence”. So the two albums “Quiet Earth” and the upco­m­ing record “Uni­on” are gre­at addi­ti­ons to my cata­log. I am very hap­py with how that tur­ned out.

Thank you very much for the con­ver­sa­ti­on. Mar­kus Deisenberger

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