Muriel Grossmann's music had an immediate impact on me from the moment I first heard it. It was music with dedication, speaking from the heart. I felt it speaks of past and present, with joy and happiness. Ten seconds into listening and I was hooked. I was all over the web trying to find a vinyl copy, but strangely enough there wasn't any available. Without a second thought we decided to get in touch with Muriel and ask how that is possible. And behold, before long, we were listening to the premix of ''Golden Rule''. I remember being inside of that record for the first time and having this feeling you get when you don't really want to leave a place anymore. This was music performed with a great artistic concentration, integrity and energy. I felt a genuine love listening to the first side.
After the record ''Golden Rule'' received good reviews, got accolades from record collectors around the world, was voted best record of 2018 by UK VIBE and was nominated for the Jazz Album Of The Year for the Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards, Muriel Grossmann and the band were back to their usual routine, performing, touring and recording the follow up to ''Golden Rule'', a formidable record entitled ''Reverence''. While the record was still in the making, I called Muriel and told her that it would be great to finally meet in person. Muriel suggested we meet on her forthcoming tour of the Balearic Islands in early autumn of 2019. I proposed immediately to make a short road movie about that tour and that the band should record live if possible. The task of capturing a live performance at the concert proved to be impossible, but she managed to book a two-day recording session in Mallorca studio Caja Del Ruido with an actual Hammond B3. I remember we arrived one day prior to the gig in Mallorca to make a recording session the same day. Gina Schwarz - the bass player - could not make it so early though, and it took Llorenç Barceló by surprise. While warming up his fingers on the Hammond he realized that Gina was not going to participate in the recording session and he had to step into her territory. But after all, Muriel just wanted to capture the live set and she did it exceptionally and with grace.
The set opens in a cool tempo when the band enters into a deep meditation, playing ''HAPPINESS'' with Muriel picking up the tenor saxophone in a composition from her 2016 album ''Natural Time'', a compositional embodiment and a reminder of why she caught the wide interest and imagination of dedicated listeners. When Llorenç picks up the groove on the Hammond bass pedals, you can instantly feel the tension growing and from that moment on, I realized it’s going to be one hell of a ride. Radomir Milojkovic takes the first solo, playing intricate bebop lines coupled with extraordinary excursions into blues. He pays a passionate and heartful homage to his guitar heroes - Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Grant Green and George Benson. After the guitar solo Muriel brings the band back into a meditation, playing an airy and atmospheric solo, taking the road less traveled. The way the band accompanies Grossmann is state of the art in delivering the true sense of the musical expression ''to accompany a soloist''. The third soloist, Llorenç Barceló, displays his deep knowledge and dedication for the Hammond as an instrument and for the masters that played it. Barceló's attention to details, refined language and musicianship shines through this well executed solo, bringing to mind such icons of the instrument as Lonnie Liston Smith, Don Patterson, Larry Young, Sonny Phillips and Richard Groove Holmes. Llorenç Barceló's unique way of playing and thinking was confirmed in a conversation that I held with him where he explained to me how he built up his first Hammond organ from scratch, buying piece by piece online. All this heavy-duty playing is guided by a steady ''hand that rocks the cradle'' embodied in the masterful, hard swinging and grooving man behind the drum set, Uros Stamenkovic, the rhythm man who digs deep into a groove, embracing the performance as a whole.
On the second tune ''TRANEING IN'' all guns are blazing. The composition from her celebrated record ''Golden Rule'' is played here in a slightly faster tempo, a soprano saxophone workout dedicated to none other than John Coltrane. Grossmann takes charge, displaying her perfect melodic sense and storytelling skill while leading the ensemble into an energetic trance. The band responds with elastic multidirectional grooves, psychedelic soundscapes and superimposed harmonies, which proves to be a powerful ending for Side A.
Side B opens up with one of my all-time favourites ''SUNDOWN'', a composition from the 2019 record ''Reverence'', which was at that time only being road tested, since this session took place while the recording of ''Reverence'' was still in full flow. I remember meditating during the recording of this song and drifting into a state of semi-consciousness between the two takes, because I felt so relaxed, the music detaching me from reality. In the beginning Barceló gives a hint of an already familiar bass line on the upper keys, before he abandons it at the same time as Radomir Milojkovic pulls out the slide, confirming that it wasn’t a one-off when he played his stellar slide solo on the composition ''Wien'' from their last 2020 record ''Quiet Earth''. While the slide guitar in ''Wien'' was played more in a Muddy Waters tradition, here in ''SUNDOWN'' it serves as a cinematic backdrop and counterpoint to Muriel's gorgeous, gentle and soothing tenor playing. Altogether it creates an empowering experience, which really allows you to step into a place and a time reflecting your inner being and inner direction feeling substantially connected to nature and the universe.
Then you wake from a dream when the band pumps up the tempo once again on the vibrant composition called ''AFRICAN DANCE'', which was first recorded for the aforementioned album ''Natural Time''. Stamenkovic gets into the burning hard, driving up-tempo Afro-Cuban rhythm, while Grossmann delivers motifs and short burst phrases, this time on the alto saxophone. Milojkovic and Barceló are locked into an infectious riff that makes you want to put on your dancing shoes and start jumping, pumping and shouting. It is an intense performance encompassing the trademark sound of this band, which gets under your skin after just a few bars.
The album closes with another tune from the record ''Reverence'' that was also a part of a live set at that time, an impeccable piece of music called ''UNION''. Uros Stamenkovic plays a great Milesian groove and the whole band gets into the trance, while Grossmann delivers the melody in shaman-like fashion. It is free from fears and totally disconnected from belief systems and in its culmination you can feel the divine spiritual connectedness of this group as they deliver an exercise in sound that embodies a UNION.
In the context of this record and the previous ones, we can clearly talk about Muriel Grossmann’s music as a style of music that is distinctive and recognizable from the very first note. If there is any remotely positive side to the situation that the whole world has found itself in, it is that this record is able to see the light of day, which otherwise would have been unlikely, since Muriel already had her follow up to ''Reverence'' composed and ready for recording. As it turned out, both records ''Quiet Earth'' and ''Union'' got their opportunity to be heard rather than being shelved deep in the recording vaults.
As Muriel told me on the road:
“True kindness and compassion are arising from the understanding that all things are interacting interdependently, are connected but constantly changing, somehow impermanent. And it is through this kindness and compassion that we are united.”
Liner notes by Dmitri Kalinin
released November 2, 2021
Muriel Grossmann saxophones
Radomir Milojkovic guitar
Llorenç Barceló hammond
Uros Stamenkovic drums
Released and distributed by RR GEMS Records © 2021 RRGEMS11