Muriel Grossmann

The internet is a marvellous place. If it wasn’t for Instagram many of us would never have heard about Muriel Grossman and Golden Rule, the stunning album that was released last Autumn. There was no big hype around it, just a recommendation from the Canadian, Aussie IG music legend @Jazzomentis aka Michael Jacklin who wrote the sleeve notes and a few sound clips and that was enough to create a huge wave of online interest.
No doubt the double vinyl pressing on RR GEMS and the knowing nod to Coltrane’s Sunship on the record sleeve, whetted the appetite even more and when it finally landed… Wow! The reception was amazing, the critics loved it, listeners loved it, UK Vibe loved it. Golden Rule was our Album of the Year.
Infused with the spirit, beauty and freedom of Coltrane, Dolphy, Ornette, Shepp and Pharoah, Muriel Grossmann and her quartet chose to take these influences as a starting point to create powerful memorable, original, exciting and uncompromising new music.

Muriel was born in Paris, moved to Vienna at an early age and is now resident in Ibiza via Barcelona. She plays alto, tenor and soprano saxophone and flute. She has been leading bands and touring Europe and North Africa since 2003. Her first record came out in 2008 and after a break in 2010, she has released five new records in the past five years.
Her current quartet is a stunning amalgamation of some of Europe’s most creative and powerful musicians and features guitarist Radomir Milojkovic who has been collaborating with Muriel since 2003 while bass player Gina Schwarz and drummer Uros Stamenkovic joined in 2015. The quartet have been together since 2015 and recorded three albums. All of these records are exploratory and free, modal and magnificent. In a jazz world dominated by the over-produced and portentous, where every new release is immediately labelled “Spiritual” the Muriel Grossman group are for real.

After listening to the record almost every-day after over Christmas we dropped Muriel a line to tell her how much we loved the record. From that (virtual) friendships were born and we did a very short interview.

NS: Golden Rule was your first vinyl release for you. Why did you go for that format?

MG: Yes, it is the first one and not the last. We always wanted to release our music on vinyl, because it is the only format that really presents the music in its best light in sound quality and in the way it’s presented. When Valentin and Dimitri from RR GEMS Records proposed we bring a record out for their label, we were really happy, and we developed a great relationship that led to this beautiful double LP. With their tireless effort and understanding, they brought our music to a wider public and we are forever grateful. Our group are all vinyl lovers, we, of course, believe that hearing music on vinyl is an incredibly joyous and rewarding way to hear music, and we are very happy to have achieved that.

NS:You have a record coming out on Jazzman soon. How did that relationship come about? What are you planning to release?

MG: Valentin and Dimitri told us that they contacted Gerald Short at Jazzman Records. Gerald really liked Golden Rule and suggested a single on their JAZZ45 label. The single will feature two radio edits, one song from Golden Rule and one song from a new live recording, which is planned for release in early 2020. That is really great; it is a fantastic label and they have done a beautiful job on the artwork and the pressing and if all goes to plan it will be out the beginning of May.

NS: You mentioned the new studio record is coming in 2019. Can you say when and what it’s going to sound like?

MG: Last summer we recorded new music with the same band that played on Golden Rule. It marks the beginning of the next phase for this group, elaborating our present concepts, adding new things and exploring new ideas. It’s a very strong record with powerful compositions. People who know our previous records like ‘Natural Time’, ‘Momentum’ and ‘Golden Rule’ will clearly hear the connection and the path. This is all I can say so far; we are very excited about it.

NS: I’m hoping to see you live this year. Are you playing any of the European festivals? Are you coming to the UK?

MG: We are talking to promoters it’s all in the making at the moment. Nothing has been finalised yet, but hopefully, everything will be clearer very soon. I don’t want to say anything more yet, but we are really looking forward to coming to the UK to play for such a great and enthusiastic audience.

NS: We really enjoyed talking to Muriel, even though it was all via email and IG, and when we suggested a feature about her favourite records and influences, we couldn’t stop her. She sent us a lengthy reply, much more than we could have hoped for. We were overwhelmed by her response. It showed her deep love, respect and knowledge for music and a willingness to share her love with others.
So, we will just let Muriel do the talking.

MG: “Thank you for giving me the chance to speak here about the records or artists that influenced me the most.
After all these years listening to John Coltrane, it still feels that I am hearing him for the first time:
I always have the same excitement, joy and passion for his music, and I can still find new things every time I listen. It’s hard to name my favourite records as each one of them has a story on its own, that is very special! My all-time favourites are “A Love Supreme, Live At The Half Note, John Coltrane Quartet Plays, Coltrane, Crescent and Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.
John created a new way to express music, he reshaped how the saxophone was played and deepened the language of jazz with his vision. And he did it in just 12 years. So many changes in such a short time, that is extraordinary.
Personally, I love all of his music from his time as a sideman with Miles right up to his late period on Interstellar Space.
Listen to his playing on Milestones, Blue Train, Kind of Blue and Giant Steps and you really hear how fast he was developing.
Those records are an introduction to his 1960s quartet, where he reached the top of the music mountain. The Quartet just exploded on records like Coltrane, Live At The Village Vanguard and Live At Birdland but i think that A Love Supreme represents the pinnacle of this band and a pinnacle of his spiritual statement.
He also made incredible music with Alice Coltrane and Rashied Ali on Stellar Regions and Live In Japan. I was so happy when the new tapes were discovered especially as Golden Rule came out in the same year as the new Coltrane record.

Through Coltrane, I became fascinated by his incredible fellow musicians. Eric Dolphy was outstanding, and we will never know, where he could have gone because he died far too soon. One of my favourite records is Out To Lunch.
I also love Alice Coltrane’s piano work on Coltrane’s records and sought out her records as a leader. I love the arrangements she writes for strings especially on Universal Consciousness, Lord Of Lords and Journey In Satchidananda. Then there is Pharoah Sanders. Tauhid and Karma are really special and of course, McCoy Tyner’s early seventies LPs like Expansions, Extensions and Sahara were some of the many records that inspired me and my music. I think you can hear that influence over the last three or four years on my own recording especially on Earth Tones, Natural Time, Momentum and Golden Rule.

As I got deeper into jazz, I was constantly exploring new sounds from everywhere. I discovered Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar, violinist L. Shankar, tabla players Zakir Hussain and his father Alla Rakha and flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and African musicians like Tony Allen, Fela Kuti, Farafina and Ali Farka Toure.
Some records that you find in my collection are Raga Aberi with L.Shankar, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram on ghatam, Tony Allen and the Afro Messengers No Discrimination and Plays with Africa ’70, Fela’s Open & Close, Faso Denou from Farafina and Ali Farka Touré’s record with Ry Cooder Talking Timbuktu which came out in 74.

Ornette Coleman is also one of my all-time favourite musicians. His music and his records made a huge impact on me and triggered a time of deep musical exploration. I like all his records and bands. From the early period, I am a big fan of The Shape Of Jazz to Come, Change Of The Century, This Is Our Music, Free Jazz and Ornette!
When he came to New York in 1959 to play a six months engagement at the Five Spot Cafe, he changed the way musicians and listeners heard and experienced jazz. Like John Coltrane, he was a major influence for generations of musicians to come.
I had the opportunity to play and talk to one of his collaborators, German pianist Joachim Kühn, who played a lot of concerts with Ornette and recorded the duo record Colors: live from Leipzig in 1997. Joachim who still plays a lot of Ornette’s compositions live, showed me compositions and scores and told me what he was like to work with. Ornette would play a program of new compositions every concert and he would rehearse the band for 12 hours during the whole week as preparation for the tour.
I like Ornette’s bands very much; they were always swinging, one with Billy Higgins on drums and Charlie Haden on bass and the other with Ed Blackwell on drums and Scott LaFaro on bass. The special thing about Ornette Coleman is, that he stayed always rooted in Blues and in the New Orleans tradition of group playing.

Talking about Joachim Kühn, it was the biggest inspiration being able to be close to such a legend, a man who has played and recorded with so many jazz greats. I was privileged to listen to some of his unreleased recordings and to hear many raw cuts evolving into albums. His scores are a revelation and influenced my composing especially in the years between 2004 and 2011. My favourite albums include Impressions of New York, with his brother Rolf from 68, Triple Entente with Daniel Humair on drums and Jenny Clark on bass. I also love his later work with Majid Bekkas on gembre and Ramon Lopez on drums including Kalimba, Chalaba and Out Of The Desert, a live recording with the HR-Bigband in Berlin from 2011.

Before I got into Jazz I was really influenced by Jimi Hendrix. When I was about 17, I had a friend, a guitar player, and together we would just see every video about Jimi, which was so exciting. When we rehearsed together it was all Jimi. Are You Experienced and Electric Ladyland really touched me because I can really feel his spirit and his need to express it through his music.

When I started playing the saxophone and got into jazz, I constantly listened to Night Lights by Gerry Mulligan. The opener really reflects the mood of this album. It is so mellow, so excellently played, a beautiful sextet with Jim Hall on guitar and Bob Brookmeyer and Art Farmer who lived in Austria for a time and who I saw playing at Jazzland a club in Vienna. I’m a huge fan of Gerry Mulligan, his lyrical playing is a sound that has always stayed with me.

When I got seriously into playing the saxophone, Charlie Parker was one of my earliest influences. Playing alto, I really was totally mesmerised by Charlie. His music and playing is so extraordinary, it transcends time. He was beside Louis Armstrong, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. He was an innovator too, a very hard thing to be, something that very few musicians achieved. Charlie Parker also had a never-ending imagination and musical memory. He knew an incredible amount of songs and he could play them in every key, that’s how he mastered his instrument; something that is a requirement for every aspiring musician since then. Even today he and Coltrane are the peak and set the standard, that all the musicians are trying to get close to.
The music that Charlie Parker recorded is his legacy to the world. I personally love every note that Charlie played. His music takes a very special place in my collection, Complete Savoy Masters recorded in the mid to late forties and Complete Verve Masters are the essence of his genius. I also love Charlie Parker With Strings. He brought the music further in every aspect, rhythm, melody and harmony. His genius lives on in the collective memory of humanity. I was also totally fascinated by the possibilities that having someone as great as Dizzy playing beside him created. It was only when I had the chance to play beside a good horn player, that I really realised, what a great possibility for musical growth that means.

This was a listening phase I also never really went out of. If I need some serious alto inspiration I draw back on Charlie, although I also really enjoy Lou Donaldson and of course Cannonball Adderley. Something Else is my all times favourite, it is a classic. It’s at the same level as Kind Of Blue. I really love Cannonball’s late fifties and early sixties records like Sharpshooters, The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York from 1962 and Quintet in San Francisco from 1960 and Lou’s Blue Note records Alligator Boogaloo and Everything I Play Is Funky have become my all-time favourites.

Louis Armstrong brought jazz phrasing to life, he made a whole world swing. He was in the first line of great New Orleans trumpet kings with Buddy Bolden and King Oliver, but it was Louis who made jazz, as we know it. His music was so extraordinary, it was clear, that he was the future; the world would swing his way. It’s hard to express the debt that we owe to Louis Armstrong, truly one of a kind. My favourite records would be Satchmo at Pasadena, Ella and Louis and The Complete Hot Five And Hot Seven Sessions, recorded between 1925 and 1928.

When I started out on tenor, I listened to a lot of Sonny Rollins. I especially love Way out West and Sound Of Sonny, his strong tone and rhythmical phrases are his trademarks.
From there I went back in time and found Count Basie and his great bands. I spent a long time listening to Basie’s main tenors like Frank Foster but particularly Eddie Lockjaw Davis, I really tried to incorporate some of his playing into mine, he is such a dynamite player, just hear him on Jumping At The Woodside and Whirly Bird.
And then of course Lester Young who is one of my favourites, one of the great saxophone players and often forgotten like Illinois Jacquet.
Lester and Illinois, I think are the tenor players that probably influenced me the most. Lester plays so lyrically. The contributions he made, in Basie’s band from 1936-39 are his very best, music that resonates today. Very few things can match his playing on Lady Be Good.
He made his name playing in Kansas City Jazz Clubs with Basie. Charlie Parker, was there almost every night, listening to and memorizing Lester’s solos. Lester Young was the biggest influence on Charlie Parker and countless other saxophone players. His music and playing are very important to me. He made so many great recordings and I always find myself returning to The Complete Aladdin Sessions (1945-47), Lester Young With The Oscar Peterson Trio and Pres and Sweets.
And then there is Illinois Jacquet. I guess I’ve had an Illinois phase for the last two years. My favourite records include Illinois Jacquet And His Orchestra, Go Power and The Complete Apollo Concerts. He is just such a great soul jazz player, he makes you dance right away.

I am also a big fan of big band music, Count Basie and Duke Ellington being my favourites. The body of music that these musicians made is extraordinary, something that I am still discovering. Count Basie’s rhythm section featuring Freddie Green on guitar, Walter Page on bass and Papa Joe Jones on drums was his first, many would say and his greatest. I also like the one with Eddie Jones on bass and Sonny Payne on drums. They were swinging so good and the Blues was all over. Alto saxophonist Marshall Royal was one of the greatest band directors. He made the Count Basie band sound like one. My favourite records are Atomic Mr Basie, April in Paris, Chairman Of The Board, Basie In London, which was recorded in Sweden and my all-time favourite Basie Plays Hefti with Neal Hefti composing and arranging for Basie!
My favourite small band recording is Basie And The Kansas City 7. You can hear the essence of in-the-pocket groove, blues and extraordinary playing.
Count Basie was a great piano player, who made happy and joyful music. Duke Ellington was also a great composer and piano player; his bands were always formed to articulate his vision as its leader. Duke made music for his sidemen, bringing out the best in them. There are so many records by Duke Ellington that I consider my favourites. There are also many great compositions, especially from the early period: Jack The Bear, Mooche, Ko Ko, and Solitude are just a few.

Before I go here are some of the other great jazz records that I really like:
Les McCann Ltd Plays The Shout And Plays The Shampoo At The Village Gate
Jimmy Smith Back At The Chicken Shack and Midnight Special
Archie Shepp Fire Music and New Thing At Newport
Mikko Innanen, Ville Herrala and Joonas Riippa Plop – Yxin Kotona
Jesse Dulman Quartet Live at Downtown Music Gallery
Joe Henderson and Alice Coltrane The Elements
Oliver Nelson The Blues And The Abstract Truth
Miles Davis Round About Midnight and Milestones and so many more …

Nick Schlittner