Review: ‘David Murray’s Black Saint Quartet’

While many of free jazz's first-generation proponents came to explore the "outside" only after having explored and digested the best of what was found "inside," a good many of today's practitioners seem intent on delivering skronk for its own sake -- without taking jazz tradition into consideration at all.

While many of free jazz’s first-generation proponents came to explore the “outside” only after having explored and digested the best of what was found “inside,” a good many of today’s practitioners seem intent on delivering skronk for its own sake — without taking jazz tradition into consideration at all.

Tenor titan David Murray, on the other hand, has a knack for incorporating several decades’ worth of touchstones into a single piece — an aptitude that made this perf both fascinating to deconstruct and pleasurable to simply sink into. Murray set the tone with his first offering, the aptly titled “Waltz Again,” on which he channeled the compositional style of John Coltrane (a master of 3/4 time signatures) into a warp-speed demonstration of seamless circular-breathing technique.

By laying down warm, burnished foundations, then splashing abstract-expressionist squeals over the melodic canvases, Murray kept both the aud and his bandmates on point. He proved willing to lay back on occasion, handing the reins to pianist Lafayette Gilchrist on the samba-inflected “Kiama” and allowing bassist Jaribu Shahid to guide “Vanished” through foggy passages that Murray’s bass clarinet pierced like a foghorn.

An untitled excursion into funk was a bit less satisfying, not because the musicians were unable to muster the requisite swing — there was plenty of that — but because the piece seemed rather purposeless in comparison to the set’s denser, more polymorphous material. Best of the latter was a second untitled piece, which found Murray dispensing notes in a liquid, welcoming manner underscored by Andrew Cyrille’s elegant mallet work that made the piece a pleasure to get lost in.

David Murray's Black Saint Quartet

Birdland; 150 capacity; $35 top

Production

Presented inhouse. Opened, reviewed June 13, 2007. Closed June 17.

Cast

Musicians: David Murray, Jaribu Shahid, Lafayette Gilchrist, Andrew Cyrille.
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