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London Jazz Festival Shimmering ascents/plummeting cadences

CHRIS SEARLE swoons to one of the greats

London Jazz Festival, David Murray Quartet
Pizza Express, Soho


HE was jazz’s prime tenor saxophonist of the post-Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter era of the 1970s and ’80s: fiery, passionate and brimming with outstanding musicianship both within and outside the tradition.

David Murray is almost a septuagenarian now. “All my old guys, they’re not with us anymore. Here are the young ones of the New York scene,” he announced, introducing pianist Marta Sanchez, bassist Luke Stewart and Russell Carter on drums.

Here, at Soho’s Pizza Express, it is almost as if he is eating up his reed as he plays his first surging notes, his phrases rampaging to sheer sonic freedom before Stewart takes his first solo, his cavernous bass resonating as if it is echoing in the heart of the Blackwall Tunnel. Sanchez clips her notes, gradually transporting her keys towards unfound melodies and Carter sets up a relentless rhythm that rocks the basement chamber.

Murray’s ever-mutating, boiling energy of full-throated sound-patterns and sudden lyricism flow out of his horn like the irrepressible human quest for succour and love. Hear the stop-time Latin rhythms and frenzied choruses of Anita, or his bass clarinet tribute to his wife’s fire-eating Italian cousin, with frolicsome, slap-tongue messages.

Yet his much slower praise-song to the young, Beautiful Child, partly a feature for Stewart’s bowed bass, is a paean to youth and infancy, an ageing musician searching for and finding deep human beauty and truth in those in their springtime, as three of them are sounding alongside him in a foreign city so far from his Californian birthplace.

As he pursues his shimmering ascents and falls into plummeting cadences, you think: “What music comes from a saxophone! What glory of sound and story!” So thank you David Murray and your young troubadours for your gifts of beauty to our ears.


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