Maria Grapsa Sextet
2023 / Musical Dojo Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Life is the debut album from the Maria Grapsa Sextet, a group of rising jazz stars from the UK. Founded and helmed by Athens-born pianist/composer Maria Grapsa, the group includes Becca Wilkins (vocals/), Matthew Kilner (tenor sax), Liam Brennan (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Kai Chareunsy (drums), Tommy Fuller (double bass), Emma Rawicz (tenor sax), Tom Pountney (guitar) and Torin Davies (guitar). All of the nine tracks were composed and arranged by Grapsa and create something of a musical scrapbook of her memories. Grapsa deftly combines modern jazz traditions with her classical background and Greek roots along with folk, Middle Eastern and Latin influences - a true melting pot of styles. Some of the tracks are very lively and upbeat - smokin', even! - and some are quieter and more introspective. The cover photo is of Maria's sister from about 1985 and one track includes her young nephew talking - possibly an expression of Maria's love of family. Not all of the pieces have lyrics, but those that do are in English. The nephew's words are not in English, but they are still a charming addition! Life is an engaging and always-interesting debut!
The album begins with "The Fundamental Difference," a piece that starts out with a quiet groove that builds dramatically as the piece unfolds. Saxes and the piano trade off taking the lead, and everyone has a chance to shine! "Nothing Is Static" starts out smoldering and ignites from there, sometimes with one of the saxes in the lead and sometimes with the piano out front. Yep, there's nothing static about this one! From there, we go to a beautifully nostalgic song called "Palace On the Hill" sung by Becca Wilkins. Recalling favorite memories, the gentle instrumental passage enhances the dreamy quality of the song that also asks: "Where will we go as we grow older?" "Almost Already" continues with a cooler vibe, but heats up at about the mid-point of the track - very expressive playing from the whole group! "Childhood" is the track with Maria's nephew's short monologue before becoming a soulful duet for piano and (wordless) vocalizations, adding clarinet, and then the rest of the group. The first half of the piece stays slow and poignant, picking up the tempo and spirit for the second half - a favorite! As the title suggests, "Floating In a Hundred Colours Sea" meanders effortlessly, as if in a very pleasant dream. Like life itself, the title track goes through many changes, rhythms and moods. At almost ten minutes, it has plenty of time to evolve and go in different directions. You definitely won't fall asleep with this one! "Circus Lane" is a very different song with poetic lyrics sung by Wilkins accompanied by sax and bass clarinet - also a favorite. "Anna Back" brings back the instrumentalists plus the electric guitars, adding a rock/jazz element to the mix and bringing the album to an upbeat, fast-paced close.
Life is a very impressive debut from the Maria Grapsa Sextet that will leave you energized and looking for more! The album is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites including Spotify.
October 28, 2023