“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yet perceived in this country as it deserves due to her outstanding work could be due to the fact that she now lives withdrawn in Ibiza not exactly looking for the hype that her last albums have caused.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
⇐ back to news page