We play for the music” — MURIEL GROSSMANN in an interview with Markus Deisenberger for MICA AUSTRIA, 30th of January 2024

We play for the music” — MURIEL GROSSMANN in an inter­view with Mar­kus Dei­sen­ber­ger for MICA AUSTRIA30th of Janu­a­ry 2024

view ori­gi­nal source here

Saxo­pho­nist and com­po­ser MURIEL GROSSMANN has a new album. It’s cal­led “Devo­ti­on” and offers the usu­al house brand of slight­ly psy­che­de­lic spi­ri­tu­al jazz. That means: soul­ful as ever, groo­vy as ever, vir­tuo­so as ever. And yet “Devo­ti­on” stands out from GROSSMANN’s pre­vious canon of excel­lent albums becau­se it is even more soul­ful, even more dri­ving, even more expan­si­ve. The Vien­nese artist, who has lived in Ibi­za for twen­ty years, will be com­ing to Por­gy & Bess for a con­cert in Febru­a­ry. Mar­kus Dei­sen­ber­ger spo­ke to her about “com­ing home” musi­cal­ly, the use of over­to­ne flu­tes and freight trains with high alti­tu­de flights.

Ibi­za and you — you’­re cur­r­ent­ly in the quiet pha­se befo­re the par­ties and jazz con­certs start up again in spring, in island sleep so to speak. Can you descri­be the quiet Ibi­za? What does it smell like?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Ibi­za in win­ter has the most beau­ti­ful sky. The night sky is crys­tal clear, the colours at sun­set and sun­ri­se are vibrant, it’s calm. The win­ter air is fresh and humid and smells peace­ful. My win­ters in Ibi­za are get­ting shor­ter and shor­ter, main­ly becau­se I’m on tour a lot, and this win­ter main­ly becau­se I tra­vel­led to Bah­rain twice for twen­ty days to open a jazz club the­re, which I hel­ped to pro­gram­me and whe­re I also had an exten­si­ve enga­ge­ment mys­elf. I play­ed three or four sets every night.

What is the fee­ling like in Bahrain?

Muri­el Gross­mann: The­re are few Euro­pean tou­rists, but main­ly peop­le who work in the Gulf regi­on. Lots of busi­ness, litt­le cul­tu­re. The­re is a huge orches­tra and a muse­um, but not much else. I also had pro­blems fin­ding musi­ci­ans from the­re for the club. I had to bring bands over.

You’­re com­ing to Vien­na on 15 Febru­a­ry to play at the Por­gy. You have your new album with you, which is cal­led “Devo­ti­on”. Let’s start by tal­king about the tit­le. Why “Devo­ti­on”?

Muri­el Gross­mann: I’m real­ly loo­king for­ward to play­ing in my home town and then in this gre­at club. I’m also loo­king for­ward to see­ing fami­ly and friends.
“Devo­ti­on” descri­bes the full dedi­ca­ti­on of one’s atten­ti­on to some­thing or someo­ne. The abso­lu­te focus on the here and now. I think this tit­le fits real­ly well, it descri­bes the band’s devo­ti­on to our musi­cal path, to our music, to one ano­t­her in the music we play, and it descri­bes my prac­ti­ce of undi­vi­ded atten­ti­on to what is in front of me. In this time and age whe­re we are so focu­sed on our­sel­ves, our path, our own desi­res — whe­re the ego domi­na­tes — it feels like a holi­day when someo­ne real­ly lis­tens, real­ly tri­es to help, real­ly devo­tes their time to the other. It hel­ps me to remem­ber that the here and now, abso­lu­te awa­reness, is what alle­via­tes suf­fe­ring, what allows us to live in bliss.

Let’s talk about the intro to the song “Devo­ti­on”. A very spe­cial flu­te and a mar­ching rhythm. What’s it all about?

Muri­el Gross­mann: It’s an over­to­ne flu­te, a metal tube with two ope­nings. I was thin­king of Shar­de Tho­mas and the Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band and her father Othar Tur­ner. Shar­de has inheri­ted the Mis­sis­sip­pi blues tra­di­ti­on and the band from Othar. She plays the fife, a home­ma­de whist­le, like a six-hole bam­boo flu­te. Devo­ti­on has many blues ele­ments, open gui­tar tuning, sli­de gui­tar and lots of blues in melo­dy and solos. Devo­ti­on is just down to earth, it’s some­thing we natu­ral­ly car­ry wit­hin us, that’s my connection.

The flu­te was your first instru­ment, the instru­ment that star­ted it all, if you like, was­n’t it?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Yes. The flu­te gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to tra­vel far in my mind. It is breath and melo­dy and free­dom of expres­si­on. That’s what I learnt from it. The saxo­pho­ne then gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express my energy.

One cri­tic has descri­bed your latest album as “one of the grea­test jazz albums of the new mill­en­ni­um, by far”. I’ll go one bet­ter: it’s one of the best jazz albums ever recor­ded, a mons­ter of an album. How did it come about?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Thank you! It is in its­elf a con­ti­nua­tion of the pre­vious albums and in par­ti­cu­lar a con­ti­nua­tion of the album enti­t­led “Uni­ver­sal Code”. “Uni­ver­sal Code” had all the ele­ments of spi­ri­tu­al jazz and what it comes from. World music influ­en­ces, jazz, blues, modal jazz — hyp­no­tic adven­tures of ori­gi­nal, ener­ge­tic music. When com­po­sing the fol­low-up album “Devo­ti­on”, I wan­ted to rein­for­ce some of the­se ele­ments. We had tou­red exten­si­ve­ly with our new mem­ber Abel Boque­ra on Ham­mond B3 organ, and I could hear whe­re the band felt most com­for­ta­ble with their new mem­ber. So I com­po­sed music for the band, and we deve­lo­ped the com­po­si­ti­ons by play­ing them in rehe­ar­sals and live, and then we recorded.

It was recor­ded in the stu­dio but has the impact and immedi­a­cy of a live record­ing. How did you mana­ge that? It sounds like an incredi­b­ly soul­ful session…

Muri­el Gross­mann: That’s the magic of this band play­ing tog­e­ther. We can hear what each of us needs, what the music needs, so that each mem­ber can bring out their crea­ti­vi­ty in the best pos­si­ble way. And the­re are always end­less varia­bles and end­less pos­si­bi­li­ties. It’s real­ly very uplif­ting to play tog­e­ther. And yes, it was a real­ly incredi­b­ly ener­gi­sing session.

How would you descri­be the ener­gy of the album?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Like a freight train, and then some high flights, unex­pec­ted but fami­li­ar … and for me, immense beau­ty in meditation.

What do you think makes the album spe­cial, dis­tin­guis­hes it from its predecessors?

Muri­el Gross­mann: For me, each album is uni­que in its­elf. When I lis­ten back, none is more spe­cial than the other, each has its place and its moment. Like all my pre­vious albums, “Devo­ti­on” is the star­ting point for incor­po­ra­ting new ele­ments that we inte­gra­te into our music, our musi­cal lan­guage. The dif­fe­rence is perhaps that “Devo­ti­on” pla­ces more empha­sis on swing and a mix­tu­re of popu­lar ele­ments such as rock, blues and coun­try music.

What remains are tran­ce-like repe­ti­ti­ons, the pen­ta­to­nic and the eth­nic influ­en­ces. What is new is that every song has been given room to brea­the. Not a sin­gle track is under ten minu­tes, and the ope­ner is lon­ger than 20 minu­tes. One cri­tic appro­pria­te­ly spo­ke of “Buil­dings that are equal­ly har­mo­nious and spec­ta­cu­lar”. Why the epic bre­adth? Was that intentional?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Yes, each song can stand on its own, but as a who­le the record is a gre­at sto­ry. The ope­ner ‘Abso­lu­te Truth’ had this majes­tic bass­li­ne that left so much room to play around. When I had the idea to slow down the bass­li­ne in the midd­le of the com­po­si­ti­on, the song natu­ral­ly expan­ded into a long psy­che­de­lic part. The song had so much room for avant-gar­de ele­ments and all kinds of dro­ne parts. It was impos­si­ble to play it under twen­ty minu­tes if you wan­ted to give space to all the soloists.

But I had the impres­si­on that even when the­re was solo­ing, it was always in the ser­vice of the who­le. Is that the plan, I assume?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Of cour­se. For me, the music is what is important. And we play music that typi­cal­ly still has solos. In today’s jazz, solos are no lon­ger so popu­lar. But with my band it’s clear: the­re are solos, and the solo is what deve­lo­ps your lan­guage. It’s what cha­rac­te­ri­ses you and what makes the music exci­ting. I also want to hear how someo­ne else expres­ses them­sel­ves, whe­re they are going. But as much as this indi­vi­du­al lan­guage is cul­ti­va­ted and given space, the solo must also fit into the music. A solo should always reflect the song. You play for the song, and the others sup­port the same. In other words, we all play for the music, for every song. But that was always clear to ever­yo­ne, I did­n’t have to insist on it.

So the­re is a tacit agree­ment about whe­re the jour­ney is going?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Yes, and also about what a song needs. For examp­le, the­re are pas­sa­ges in which Rado­mir plays a coun­try gui­tar, while Abel comes in with a solo. Then again, Abel devo­tes his play­ing more to the land­s­cape, and Rado­mir comes in with a solo. When you play the song, you rea­li­se whe­re a soloist can best express hims­elf, can best sup­port the song. And it’s also pos­si­ble that this will chan­ge. There’s a live record com­ing out soon whe­re you’ll see the songs in a dif­fe­rent light and rea­li­se how enor­mous the ran­ge of each song is.

It’s a never-ending pro­cess of self-dis­co­very”, you once said about making music its­elf. You seem to have found your­sel­ves as a quar­tet, don’t you?

Muri­el Gross­mann: It sounds and feels like home, like com­ing home, yes.

You have a long part­ners­hip with gui­ta­rist Rado­mir Milo­j­ko­vic in par­ti­cu­lar. He also lives in Ibi­za, just like you. What is the secret of this very clo­se musi­cal friendship?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Rado­mir is a fan­tastic per­son. He’s inte­res­ting, real­ly deep and has so many inte­rests that you can’t get bored. He’s also very humo­rous, but perhaps the most important thing for our mutu­al agree­ment is that he sim­ply loves the same music as I do, the has same musi­cal values and the same meti­cu­lous­ness. We never give up, and an inte­res­ting point in our long musi­cal rela­ti­ons­hip is that what one starts, the other can and does finish, and vice ver­sa. And we are com­ple­te­ly absor­bed in the music. We are both ten­acious, and the gui­tar and saxo­pho­ne are a per­fect match, both so dif­fe­rent in sound and pos­si­bi­li­ties. We have sim­ply found a way to deve­lop a uni­que, reco­gnis­able sound through our clo­se musi­cal bond.

The sty­listic bre­adth of the cur­rent album is enor­mous. How did that come about?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Today’s musi­ci­ans lis­ten to so many dif­fe­rent types of music. When you make a record, all the­se influ­en­ces find their way into the music you play. And so I trans­fer my musi­cal expe­ri­en­ces and my musi­cal heri­ta­ge and trans­la­te them into my own musi­cal expression.
But our play­ing has also evol­ved with Abel (Abel Boque­ra plays the Ham­mond B3 organ on the album). With this soul-jazz groo­ve that he brought in. It got the band mar­ching, swin­ging, and gave the band even more live energy.

Exci­ting. Some cri­tics cri­ti­cis­ed exact­ly that. The music went too far away from spi­ri­tu­al jazz due to the soul-jazz influ­en­ces. I felt the exact oppo­si­te: That — just like you said — Abel’s play­ing pushes the band to ano­t­her level in pla­ces. Why should some­thing that is soul­ful run coun­ter to spi­ri­tu­al jazz?

Muri­el Gross­mann: With Abel it was a very natu­ral deve­lo­p­ment. He plays nor­mal soul jazz and is at home in the tra­di­tio­nal Ham­mond sound a la Jim­my Smith. He brings that to the table and the band is hap­py about it, sud­den­ly showing a new image. On “Uni­ver­sal Code” I com­po­sed ever­ything throughout, but on “Devo­ti­on” I gave the band a lot of space. I gave them the­mes and groo­ves, but then let them do it. That just made more sense.

What does the much-vaun­ted term “spi­ri­tu­al jazz” actual­ly mean to you?

Muri­el Gross­mann: In my opi­ni­on, spi­ri­tu­al jazz is the least restric­ti­ve gen­re, it inclu­des all kinds of musi­cal styles and ele­ments. It has evol­ved from hard bop, modal jazz and free jazz, but it has also incor­po­ra­ted ele­ments from world music, Afri­can music, Indian music and ele­ments from other popu­lar gen­res such as soul, funk, pop etc. So it’s a gen­re of music whe­re I can expe­ri­ment and deve­lop my per­so­nal sound and ide­as when I play the solos, and whe­re I can com­po­se the­mes and tex­tures based on ide­as from the music that I real­ly like. I can real­ly go into gre­at detail and expe­ri­ment with dif­fe­rent ele­ments, tra­di­ti­ons and sounds by focus­sing only on Afri­can music, for example…

I read in a review that the album sounds like your ver­si­on of Col­tra­ne through the eyes of Jer­ry Gar­cia. Can you rela­te to that?

Muri­el Gross­mann: I’m very hap­py, posi­tively sur­pri­sed, and I love to hear and read how other peop­le per­cei­ve my music, and some­ti­mes I’m so sur­pri­sed to learn about the con­nec­tions that others hear, and some­ti­mes it gives me a new per­spec­ti­ve. My fans have a gre­at ima­gi­na­ti­on and they lis­ten to the music very care­ful­ly and find all kinds of con­nec­tions. That’s gre­at, and I’m always hap­py when I dis­co­ver an inte­res­ting con­nec­tion. I per­so­nal­ly love Jer­ry Gar­cia and the Gra­te­ful Dead, it’s gre­at music. And Jer­ry was a big fan of John. And I’m sure if John had had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to live lon­ger, he would have been a fan of the Gra­te­ful Dead.

What struck me at your last con­cert in Vien­na: alt­hough you’­ve been away from Vien­na for a long time, you still have a huge and loy­al fan base. How come?

Muri­el Gross­mann: Yes, it was packed last time. I’m glad that so many peop­le come. It real­ly makes a dif­fe­rence when Diet­mar Pet­schl announ­ces my con­cert on tele­vi­si­on. Peop­le come who I might not other­wi­se reach. When Diet­mar puts a fea­ture on Austrian’s Main TV sta­ti­on after the eight o clock news — the cul­tu­ral Mon­day, it is cal­led, they remem­ber and come. But of cour­se I also have a lot of friends and fami­ly here. I hope it will be full again this time.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Mar­kus Deisenberger


Muri­el Gross­mann ‘Devo­ti­on’ live: 15.02.24 20:30 at Por­gy & Bess, Vienna

Muri­el Gross­mann: Tenor, Alto, Sopra­no Saxophone
Rado­mir Milo­j­ko­vic: Guitar
Abel Boque­ra: Ham­mond Organ
Uros Sta­men­ko­vic: Drums

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