22-year-old Swiss-born saxophonist Maria Grand is not one to take the more-weathered path.
A regular member of drummer Doug Hammond’s quartet and boasting performance credits alongside the likes of Steve Coleman and Roman Filiu, Grand found mentors in older musicians such as Coleman and saxophonist Ohad Talmor upon arriving in New York City for a three-month stay in 2009.
“I was staying at Ohad Talmor’s place, who grew up in Geneva, so he was the first person I met who was an improviser. I randomly met him at the music school I attended in Geneva, and after that I stayed in touch and he’d show me stuff whenever he came through. I was really eager to learn,” she says.
“There was nobody else. He’d come once every three months or whatever. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to learn stuff over there, so I stayed at Ohad’s house and he introduced me to a lot of people. I knew that Steve had his masterclasses at The Jazz Gallery, so I met him at the workshop in 2009.”
At the time, Grand was taking a high school-sanctioned year off (“I was kind of an outcast at that high school,” she says, referring to the fact that the school offered only Western classical training) and had embarked on a self-organized, year-long program of traveling and studying improvisation abroad.
While staying with Talmor, Grand crossed paths with many of the adventurous Brooklyn-based improvisers associated with the borough’s thriving experimental jazz community, including drummer Dan Weiss, pianist Jacob Sacks, guitarist Miles Okazaki, and others.
But of these older, more experienced musicians, Coleman has proved to be the most influential to her artistic development. She knew of Coleman’s music even before her initial foray into New York’s music scene, and sought him out specifically upon arrival.
Grand attended City College to study music for three semesters before dropping out to pursue music full-time. Most recently, she has been investigating the possibilities of plasticity and non-fixity in her music.
“I’ve always been more attracted to changeable personalities, and in the same way I’m attracted to very changeable music,” she says. “I don’t like when things are set; I like when things are dynamic and surprising—even risky, you know—and I’ve been thinking about how to implement this in music.”
Some of these ideas are in part inspired by Coleman’s musical approach, which eschews set lists and prioritizes disciplined spontaneity.
“I want to do music that is entirely changeable. I want to do that thing that Steve does and make it more extreme, so my concept for this concert is that I don’t want to have any set songs but I want to have set material, kind of like a vocabulary.”
For her trio performance at the Gallery this Thursday, Grand has enlisted two collaborators whom she met through working with mentors: bassist Matt Brewer, whom Grand met playing with Coleman and Filiu, and drummer Sean Rickman, the longtime member of Coleman’s Five Elements band.
In a short text documenting her thoughts for this trio performance, Grand describes the process of working with the basic elements of music as she sees them—melody, rhythm, and harmony—and allowing herself and her bandmates to play with the set material in a dynamic, fluid way:
There are three people in my band, right now. There are also three main components of music: melody, rhythm, and harmony. Of course, the boundaries between humans are hard to describe with exact science; after all, during our interactions, a little bit of every human gets mixed in with us. Food, love, sex, speaking, the clothes we wear, the things we touch, all these things connect us to other human beings. I see music as being no different. Rhythm, melody, and harmony cannot be described independently from each other; there is no melody without rhythm, no harmony without melody, etc. Ultimately, all are vibration.
So, each one of us plays all three aspects with his or her instrument. That gives us a lot of possibilities… We have a certain amount of set things. We have some set original songs, that we know, and we can go to anytime. We also have individual rhythms, melodies, and harmonies. We have calls for each harmony to begin, or we can just begin them loosely. The rhythms are inspired by the human circadian cycle. Rhythm is connected to emotion through dance, and therefore these rhythms are inspired by different movements which embody specific moments through a terrestrial day. The melodies reflect specific weather systems such as tornados, hurricanes, rains, etc, through my vision of their symbolism and significance. And finally, the harmonies are related to seasons and to the amount of energy that is absorbed and emitted by the Earth throughout the year. That makes up for a lot of different possibilities, which I intend to use to build a long-term compositional and improvisational vocabulary. Of course in one concert we might not get to all the possibilities – but we can change pretty fast from one thing to another.
As Grand sees it, the changing of weather is analogous to the changing of individual personalities day-to-day, moment-to-moment, and her music seeks to reflect those changes:
The weather changes constantly! It’s regulated by a myriad of different parameters. I change all the time too, because like an atmospheric system, I am constantly seeking homeostasis. My moods change, my chemical makeup changes, my metabolism changes, my emotions change. Most times, I cannot directly control how I change. I can only witness the changes and patiently observe them…
…Our society tends to suppress these changes, and we look to smoothen out our daily, monthly, and life-long cycles. I choose to do the opposite. I want to embrace these curves, these variations in mood, these sharp turns and lengthy slopes.
We’re pleased to present Maria Grand and her trio on our stage, and we hope that you’ll join us in welcoming this talented young artist as she explores the possibilities of her music, what she calls “a window into our internal weather.”
Maria Grand Trio performs Thursday, April 2, 2015, at The Jazz Gallery. The trio features Grand on tenor saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, and Sean Rickman on drums. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. The first set is $15 ($10 for Members); the second set is $10 ($8 for Members). Purchase tickets here.