Muriel Grossmann ‘Golden Rule’ 2LP (RR Gems) 5/5

The question: What would you say defines “spiritual jazz”? A powerful experience? An evocative journey? Music that transcends all time and place? Music that touches your heart and strengthens your soul? A sound that is at once explorative and free, whilst also giving a satisfying sense of belonging? An incomprehensible cosmic energy that helps you feel grounded within an ever-changing universe? The answer: Yes. All of this and more. Above all it is a connection, with yourself, mankind, and the world around you, a kind of meditative awakening, as if to say “Ahh yes, this is it”. You can feel it. Your senses reawaken and your mind is quietly focussed. You let it all in, and breathe.

Few albums truly capture this spirit in such a consistently startling and beautiful way. This one most definitely does. Muriel Grossmann’s “Golden Rule” embraces the groundbreaking, exploratory jazz of Sun Ra and John Coltrane, gives a very respectful nod to fellow contemporaries Nat Birchall and Shabaka Hutchings, and immerses itself in a swirl of transcendental expression. Timeless and innovative, this is one mighty statement of a recording.

Born in Paris to Austrian parents, saxophonist and composer Muriel Grossmann grew up in Vienna, starting classical studies at the age of 5. When she switched to saxophone, discovering jazz at the age of 21, her musical direction changed. Although learning mostly from listening to records, Grossmann also credits German jazz pianist Joachim Kühn, with whom she later studied, as having a great impact on her musically. Her sources of inspiration are wide, including a range of jazz giants from saxophonists such as Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, to guitarists like Grant Green. It is however, the symbiosis of sounds created on this album, with Serbian guitarist Radomir Milojkovic, Austrian bassist Gina Schwarz, and Serbian drummer and percussionist Uros Stamenkovic, that closely link the music back to the works of Coltrane.

There’s an intriguing sonic palette to Grossmann’s music. As the album begins, opening with the title track, I was immediately drawn to the almost whispered sounds that move and shimmer, acting as a backdrop to the tune itself. Perhaps my musical adventures in life have been less adventurous than I thought, but this is something quite unique in the way that the sounds are sensitively and intelligently layered. It’s a little like ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), only in a good way! (I’m not a fan). And it’s a stroke of musical genius, allowing the musicians to explore and improvise on top of the core of the tune, and the sonic landscape that lives and breathes behind that.

The initial bass-line on “Golden Rule” to my mind quietly echoes the spoken words “A Love Supreme”, as Grossmann’s sax sets off on a new and evolving journey. “Core” continues in a similar vein, with perhaps more of a knowing glance to fellow contemporary Nat Birchall. A feature of the whole recording is the depth of sound, largely created by the drums and percussion, hidden secrets are gradually revealed and the more I listen, with luscious bass driven grooves fuelling the fire as a beautiful sax shaped Phoenix rises from the flames, the more I can hear the traces of history propelling the music forward into new, unknown territories.

“Promise” is a tune I can lose myself in time and time again. It somehow speaks to me. This is the beauty of Grossmann’s compositions, but more over, the sense of connectedness I feel with the musicians themselves. It’s as if I’m sharing their journey whilst discovering my own. The slower, contemplative “Direction” is one of those tunes you just don’t want to end. It’s a meditation, expressive and inclusive, searching and experiencing, reaching and grasping, relaxing and finding.

“Traneing In” is the longest piece on the album. It opens with vibes, percussion and experimental sounds, reminding me of Keith Jarrett’s “Spirits”. Milojkovic’s guitar takes centre-place, leading the other instruments on an adventure into their own consciousness. And then it all comes together in a sparkling burst of light as the band-leader’s soprano sings out with an effervescent bridge of light. This is exciting and richly rewarding music.

“Trane” is almost trance-like, using multi-layered saxes to create a wonderful palette of sound. The textural opening gives way to an infectious groove, with bass, drums and guitar all combining perfectly to allow the tenor sax to soar with unbridled abandon. The closing track “Light” is like a homage to what has come before, warmly celebrating its musical ancestors in an uplifting and respectful way, stepping through doors opened by predecessors and walking boldly into the light.

For those of you who enjoy your spiritual jazz, this album is an absolute must-have. Muriel Grossmann’s Quartet evoke the true beauty, sincerity and joy of Coltrane, whilst successfully musically singing out in their own voice, creating new ideas with a refreshing verve and skill. “Golden Rule” is quite simply an incredible album, inventive, full of character, and to my ears, a musical joy to behold.

Mike Gates