Let’s start by giving correct love to Tallinn’s RR GEMS Records. They palpably care, don’t they? That care is as clearly felt in their musical choices (Brahja and Soft Power are just two of their phenomenal artists) as it is in the design and finish of their product, as it is in their playful, communicative customer relations (see social media). Long may they continue to foster my goodwill towards them and, by my simple-brained association, to their beautiful city…hopefully softening my memories of a green-gilled ferry from Helsinki and a nasty beefsteak.
“Quiet Earth” is their new offering by the much-loved, Ibiza-based, Austrian saxophonist, Muriel Grossman, and her quintet consisting of Radomir Milojkovic on guitar, Llorenç Barceló on organ, Gina Schwarz on bass and Uros Stamenkovic on drums. It’s the same lineup from last year’s “Reverence” album and the core of her previous recordings. Not sure Grossman needs any introduction to UK Vibers, her contemporary take on the modal spiritual jazz of the masters is well documented and universally admired.
The opener, “Wien”, was first visited on “Awakening” but this version is notably fuller and richer. It’s a deep cleanse; a soothing irrigation that requires a solitary moment of empty-headed, open-hearted contemplation. Milojkovic and Schwarz create a positive path, Barceló warmly pulses, Stamenkovic washes and Grossmann offers up a feeling, asking you to personalise that feeling and ascendantly meditate upon it. Unexpectedly, successfully, Milojkovic gets the slide out and delivers a psych blues solo as per late 60’s genre-crossing, experimentation. Barceló patiently expands upon the idea before a breakdown that makes way for Grossmann’s resolution. “Wien” is a spiritually seamless 11 minutes – aware and purposeful, not glibly happy-clappy.
“African Call” has that titular mobility, those dancing patterns. It’s a summons, an invite to engage, both rhythmically and soulfully. Milojkovic and Schwarz hold it down tight but free, Stamenkovic’s cymbals busy it along and Grossmann’s jubilant motif calls its call. Milojkovic, Barceló and Grossmann each take an individual solo, collectively communicating the single exuberant plea.
The opening two minutes of divine air and unspoken rhythms that introduce “Peaceful River” are gorgeous; akin to the feels of Sanders on “Elevation”, a literal Acknowledgement of the river’s peacefulness. Overt rhythms of the river’s gentle ebb and flow then appear; becalming and requesting that we accept, and exalt, our inevitable oneness with nature. Ethereal.
“Quiet Earth” is initially more open, free-er. It jumps into a groove, much less free, much more urgent; there’s a funk to it. Stamenkovic’s cymbals coolly roll, his bass drum and Schwarz’s bass both just under the beat, propelling. While Grossmann speaks with explicit concern, a pain and Barceló casts evocative shade. As is the now-established formula Milojkovic and Barceló take ordered solos. Milojkovic clean, flat, phat picking; appropriate. Barceló jabs, shuffles, rope-a-dopes. The final minute and a half are free-er again, still turbulent but offering a glimpse of hope.
This album takes us on a wishful, search-for-meaning, journey. It does have that at-oneness we’d naturally expect from music created in the spiritual sanctuary of Ibiza; a meditative single-voice spirituality that evokes hope and positive energies and allows those of us fortunate enough to be able to connect with it, to feel healing, growth, and uplift. But there is also something more demanding, something that requires our (maybe illusive) oneness in order to respond to it; a request that we be aware, that we look for positive transformation, that we look to collectively heal ourselves and our environment.
Muriel is hopeful that we can achieve this: “I pray for all of us to live a happy, healthy, meaningful and unifying life, with responsible intentions for our and future generations…May our music serve you on your essential journey.” Apt beseeching, as we leave 2020 and enter into who-knows-what 2021.
And, finally, a Yuletide Greetings to you all! Bring it, 2021.