Label: Biophilia Records, 2018
Personnel – Maria Grand: tenor saxophone, vocals; David Bryant: piano; Fabian Almazan: piano; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Rashaan Carter: bass; Jeremy Dutton: drums + Jasmine Wilson and Amani Fela: spoken word.
Tenor saxophonist Maria Grand, a native of Switzerland, is currently based in New York, to where she moved in 2011 to pursue a more exciting musical career. After receiving deserved attention in projects of altoist Steve Coleman, one of her mentors, Ms. Grand resolved to step forward as a leader, releasing the self-produced EP Tetrawind last year. Two members of the luxurious quintet that played in the cited recording - pianist David Bryant and bassist Rashaan Carter - were summoned again to participate in Magdalena, her first full-length output. Remaining bandmates in the current working group are guitarist Mary Halvorson, pianist Fabian Almazan, and drummer Jeremy Dutton, who contribute significantly to portray modern family relationships with strict connections with Egyptian and Christian myths and the work of family therapist Virginia Satir.
Despite the quality of Jasmine Wilson’s narration on the opening statement, the first big astonishment was felt during the following tune, an oddly lyrical duet called “Imani/Walk By”, to which Grand’s beautiful, nearly inharmonious voice lends an irresistibly enchanting dimension. Here, it’s Almazan who creates the haunting piano voicings and textures behind her chant, while on “Last Year” and “Sing Unborn”, also duets, is Ms. Halvorson weaving the attractively clashing, effect-drenched underpinning that supports the bandleader’s agile vocalization.
There’s a central instrumental block on the album composed of three related compositions, each of them devised with gravitas and constructed around a particular triad while evoking mythical feminine prowess. They are “TI:Isis”, where brisk and graceful saxophone phrases decorate a solid M-Base template; “TII:Maria”, loosely built with neo-boppish idioms and rigorous dark timbres; and the spiritual “TIII: Magdalena”, a light-emitting contemplation of transparent beauty.
A remarkable achievement in Grand’s new body of work is that even static moments don’t sound stiff, thanks to the group’s unconventional rhythmic notions and evasive fluidity. There’s a conspicuous openness to different genres, like on the jazz-meets-hip-hop “Ejes Y Deseos”, yet her jazz roots are underscored on pieces such as “Where is E”, written for her sister Eleanora with a mature, fully-developed dialogue between piano and saxophone; and “Demonium”, a rhythmically mischievous exercise with clear-cut accents, amusing individual statements, and responsive interplay. Showcasing an effective blend of jazz and free funk, “Pyramid Sphere” sparks with Bryant’s rhythmic ideas, encompassing first-class motifs and opportune whirls, which, later, become affiliated with curly, fragmented saxophone lines.
There’s something magnetic and exquisitely offbeat in Grand’s compositions. Carving a niche for herself, the saxophonist speaks with an authentic voice in a fascinating album that deserves repeated listenings.
02 - Imani/Walk By ► 06 - Last Year ► 07 - Pyramid Sphere