Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Gig Review: David Murray Infinity Quartet - Live At St George 16.10.2013

The first thing to hit you when David Murray’s first notes come exploding out is just how big (and perfect) his sound his. The tenor saxophone has always been the weapon of choice for sax players who want to make an impact, but Murray truly raises the bar when it comes to really filling a room with his sound. And what a big round pure tone sound it is too. In fact it could also over-dominate his group were he not so generous, and they not so willing to grab any opportunity that came their way.

Rod Williams for example is a pianist who has played on and off with Murray over the years, but here tonight the two men were completely simpatico, Williams playing underneath Murray subtley and gently, but always highly musically, and when his solo moments came, he made them shine with tasteful aplomb. Nasheet Waits by contrast is a young lion of a drummer who every moment played his heart out, and showcased some impressive chops, as well as why he won the Downbeat poll for drummer of the year. But surely the discovery of the night for me was bassist Jaribu Shahid. A cool and relaxed looking player you’ll never find, and his playing though tight and melodically rhythmic, managed to look effortless, despite the dextrous fury on display from his nimble figures and constantly dancing feet.

Murray’s quartet embraced a wide spectrum of musical styles and ideas, and together they managed to always keep things swinging and soulful, even when dipping into more avant garde or free territory – which perhaps has always been David Murray’s greatest strength as a player, to be able to play more ‘out’ and yet keep things deeply passionate and highly musical. If you have ever heard him recorded then you need to do yourself the favour and listen to him live – it’s an almost spiritual experience.

For me, his musical high point during the night came when he finally decided to break out his bass clarinet. Recognised by many as perhaps the premier bass clarinettist of his time, Murray can always be relied on to get as many sounds as possible out of the instrument, and frequently he generates a sultry, smoky and dense tone that can work wonders for the right tune. Here though, as much as were able to enjoy the dark huskiness of the clarinet, Murray still managed to up his game further. Playing slow and soulful, he occasionally created interludes where his breathing was able to make ‘popping’ bass vocal sounds in a rhythmic and melodic way that I’d wager most of the audience had ever heard before.

A superb group, headed by one of the greatest tenorists of all time (and I will argue that if you don’t agree), and with excellent opening support from local heroes The Jim Blomfield Trio, this was a fantastic musical night out. Full of bold, bright and melodic improvisation, this was clearly not a night for those not inclined to give a little ‘free’ a chance, but the soul and power of each of the players was squeezed brilliantly into every moment. Here’s hoping Murray returns to our shores very very soon.

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