Muriel Grossmann ‘Elevation’ LP (Jazzman) 5/5

In some ways, listening to a Muriel Grossmann album is like stepping back in time. Reflections of Coltrane, Dolphy and Sanders catch the light in my mind’s eye, dancing spirits infused with the power of discovery and inner healing. But it’s so much more than that. Embodying the borderless, fearless, pan-continental energies of contemporary modern jazz, Grossmann’s playing truly embodies the directness and eloquence of the older generation whilst capturing a new, fresh and inspiring virtuosity that leaves me breathless with admiration.

Born in Paris, raised in Vienna, resident in Ibiza, saxophonist and composer Muriel Grossmann has released a dozen albums as leader, going back to the early 2000s. Featuring sounds ranging from hard-swinging modernist jams to free improvisation, expansive spiritual work to rhythm-focussed Afrocentrism, there has always been a distinctive thread of pure and heartfelt spiritual music at the centre of her work. You can’t play this music successfully if you don’t mean it – like the music of her contemporary Nat Birchall, Grossmann’s engagement with the Coltrane tradition is sincere and deep. Her music resonates within the tradition, adding her own innovative voice to the story of modal and spiritual jazz in Europe.

“Elevation” is a vinyl only release from Jazzman, and draws on a selection from her 2016 CD album Natural Time (‘Your Pace’, ‘Peace For All’) and from 2017’s CD Momentum (‘Elevation’, ‘Chant’ and ‘Rising’). I discovered Grossman’s music relatively recently, through her two more recent albums, Reverence, and Golden Rule, both released on the RR Gems label. I instantly fell in love with her sound. Featuring her regular quartet of Radomir Milojkovic (guitar) Uros Stamenkovic (drums) and Gina Schwarz (bass), the music chosen for this album has the same feel and vibe to it as her more recent releases, encompassing all that is bold and beautiful about the way she and her band bring together a captivating sense of intimacy, joy and freedom from the glorious music they are performing.

Side A kicks off with a sense of urgency. The retro-feel to Grossmann’s music just adds to the vitality of it all. Crisp, sparkling, melodic invention mixes seamlessly with the deep grooves that arrive quickly, staying present for the tune’s duration, allowing for the gloriously spontaneous soloing to drift in and out of the title track. ‘Rising’ continues in a similar vein, the quartet creating a luxurious atmosphere that floats and slowly spills its gifts of life into the welcoming consciousness. As with all of the tunes here, the solid link between drums and bass, and sax and guitar, leaves a lasting impression, not unlike a late ’60s early ’70s improvisational Jan Garbarek/Terje Rypdal Quartet. Side B has a slightly less raw edge to it, with the sublime ‘Chant’ speaking volumes in a subtle, unhurried way. Alluring and timeless, ‘Your Pace’ is soulful and beguiling, it’s meditative melody enriched by the undoubted connection this group of musicians share. The closing piece ‘Peace For All’ features Grossmann at her best, her sax soulful and contemplative, before reaching out and soaring like a beautiful eagle flying over the most incredibly stunning mountain scenery. Emotive and strikingly innovative, this music is just so inspiring.

Mike Gates