Review of ‘Devotion’ by Leonid Auskern, Jazz Squad, Belarus

Ori­gi­nal Review here 

          The album Devo­ti­on, the fif­te­enth stu­dio album in the dis­co­gra­phy of the Aus­tri­an saxo­pho­nist and com­po­ser Muri­el Gross­man, who has been living and working on the Spa­nish resort island of Ibi­za for many years, marks her tran­si­ti­on under the wing of the Ame­ri­can label Third Man Records. Pre­vious­ly, Muri­el publis­hed her works main­ly on her own label Dream­land Records or the Esto­ni­an RR Gems. This is not the only inno­va­ti­on asso­cia­ted with this pro­ject. In Grossman’s quar­tet, along­side her long­time regu­lar part­ners Rado­mir Milo­j­ko­vic (gui­tars) and Uros Sta­men­ko­vic (drums), Bar­ce­lo­na-based orga­nist Abel Boque­ra appeared during the record­ing of Devo­ti­on. Muri­el herself loo­ks like a real mul­ti-instru­men­ta­list in this album: in addi­ti­on to the saxo­pho­nes fami­li­ar from her pre­vious works (here she uses alto, tenor and sopra­no) and flu­te, Gross­mann plays the dou­ble bass here, as well as on tam­bou­ra, kalim­ba, har­mo­ni­um and various per­cus­sion instruments.

          Gross­man had pre­vious­ly had a pen­chant for lar­ge, exten­ded com­po­si­ti­ons, but with Devo­ti­on she sim­ply out­did herself. Of the seven tracks on the album, not a sin­gle one is shor­ter than ten minu­tes, and the pro­gram of the hour and a half album opens with the gran­dio­se play Abso­lu­te Truth, which lasts almost 22 minu­tes. This, one might say, is the cal­ling card of the album. The spi­ri­tu­al com­po­nent of Muri­el Grossmann’s work, com­ing from Col­tra­ne and reflec­ted in the album’s tit­le, here visi­b­ly mer­ges with hard­bop idi­oms and modal jazz under an almost fun­ky drum rhythm. Repla­cing each other as the com­po­si­ti­on deve­lo­ps, the tenor saxo­pho­ne of the lea­der of the quar­tet, the gui­tar of Milo­j­ko­vic, and the Ham­mond organ of Boque­ra, who is unusual­ly orga­ni­cal­ly inclu­ded in this ensem­ble, per­form excel­lent solos. Then comes Calm, my per­so­nal favo­ri­te of the album, with fan­tasti­cal­ly expres­si­ve play­ing from Gross­man and equal­ly power­ful parts from Milo­j­ko­vic. Against the back­ground of this pie­ce, the next com­po­si­ti­on Care, in a soul-jazz style, see­med to me at first a litt­le bland, but the fie­ry gui­tar solos, cou­pled with the excel­lent work of Boque­ra and Sta­men­ko­vich, began to blur this impres­si­on, and Grossman’s solo chan­ged ever­ything radically.

          It is curious that in terms of style Muri­el does not seem to offer anything revo­lu­tio­na­ry. But from the alrea­dy fami­li­ar “bricks”, with the talent of an out­stan­ding archi­tect, she assem­bles a buil­ding that is equal­ly har­mo­nious and spec­ta­cu­lar, both in struc­tu­re and in deco­ra­ti­ve ele­ments. An examp­le of this is liter­al­ly any pie­ce on the album, and a com­po­si­ti­on such as Know­ledge and Wis­dom adds ele­gant Indian orna­men­ta­ti­on to the blues-rock accents, lar­ge­ly due to the flu­te part from Muri­el Gross­man. On the tit­le pie­ce, Devo­ti­on, Milojkovic’s gui­tar con­ti­nues in a blues-rock vein, but Gross­man and Boque­ra grace­ful­ly return the pie­ce to a soul-jazz direc­tion. For a spec­ta­cu­lar fina­le, Muri­el saved the com­po­si­ti­on Mother of All, whe­re all the mem­bers of the quar­tet are so con­vin­cing that they only con­firm the con­vic­tion for­med during this hour and a half of lis­tening to the album that this is Muri­el Grossman’s best album in recent years. Leo­nid Aus­kern for Jazz Squad, Belarus


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