Saxophonist and composer Maria Grand has an original creative outlook coupled with a unique style. Since moving to New York 10 years ago, she has become entrenched in the city’s improvised music milieu and quickly developed into a seasoned leader in her own right. Her sophomore, digital-only release, the entrancing Reciprocity, showcases Grand’s talents in the spare setting of a trio.
Perhaps becoming a mother inspired Grand to create these works, which are permeated by an elated mysticism. For instance, a collective chant opens the two-part “Fundamental.” Bassist Kanoa Mendenhall’s sonorous bowed strings and drummer Savannah Harris’ stirring beats frame the haunting vocals. Into this ceremonial ambience, Grand introduces her sinewy and ardent phrases to mesmerizing effect. As Harris’ turbulent polyrhythms drive the piece, Mendenhall takes her turn in the spotlight with vibrant lyricism.
The deeply spiritual “Creation: Ladder of Swords” crackles with tension. Harris contributes a vigilant cadence while Mendenhall entwines deeply resonant lines within it. Together they form a delightfully angular backdrop for Grand’s introspective performance. As the tune evolves, the group engages in a fiery, stimulating conversation that flirts with dissonance.
Elsewhere, the trio members open the “Creation: The Joy of Being” with an overlapping hymn-like recitation of the same sentence. Grand’s wistful and radiant tenor smolders with yearning emotion. Mendenhall and Harris, never relegated to mere supporting roles, each extemporize with passionate elegance. Hence three independent, yet synergistic, spontaneous expressions coalesce into a crystalline, multifaceted melody.
Reciprocity explores themes that are simultaneously universal and intensely personal. Grand’s artistic ingenuity and camaraderie with Harris and Mendenhall are also amply demonstrated. This shared aesthetic sense among the three makes the release all the more compelling and provocative and a singularly brilliant addition to Grand’s discography. — Hrayr Attarian