Tenor saxophonist David Murray seems to have come a long way from his mid-’70s debut albums when his solos circled around a searing version of the late Albert Ayler’s ghost wail and his accompaniment was sparse and nodding. An absurdly prodigious recorder — at one point he seemed to be releasing an album a month — he’s dealt with so many different concepts and genres that the hook of his Power Quartet release is that there is no concept and the genre is jazz.
Although his vocabulary has expanded over the years, Murray remains an outside player and he keeps the avant spirit fresh by unleashing it against the backdrop of an ostensibly conventional trio. With his rhythm section of John Hicks, piano; Ray Drummond, bass and Andrew Cyrille, drums, maintaining momentum and harmonic integrity (these guys swing hard), Murray typically builds his solos to ecstatic peaks, the sheer effrontery of his free flights emphasized by the grounded trio. Only on one cut, “Mo’ Bass (for the bulldog),” does everyone play in free time and it’s very, very hot. Murray’s larger-than-life romanticism comes on full tilt on the el tango of the title cut, his soulful side on two funk numbers and his playful side on the obligatory Monk cut (“Let’s Cool One”), but all roads lead to the liberating yowl of the freedom sound.
The World Saxophone Quartet (current lineup: Murray, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett and John Purcell) have also managed to expand their grasp and keep the faith over the years. And if they have a fault, it’s a tendency to err on the side of sumptuousness and kicky riffs, which after a while just points out the limitations of putting a woodwind line on display. But they have perfected the art of the varied program, alternating the free passages with cushiony sonorities and elaborate counterpoint. And displaying a compositional range, which moves from Bluiett’s excessively disjointed “Bits n’ Pieces” to the more coherent and majestic eeriness of Purcell’s “The New Chapter” — which is also their first experiment with overdubbing. And though their approach no longer startles like it did in their early days, it’s still a wonderful sound and is still, at times, sparked with inspiration.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].