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Jazz Review

David Murray's Still Full of Fresh Ideas

September 16, 2000|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The tendency, in the retro jazz '90s and beyond, to define the music in a framework bounded by New Orleans jazz on one side and bebop on the other has tended to obscure the fact that imaginative, creative evolution has never ceased. And no one has worked more effectively to expand the aesthetic envelope of jazz than David Murray.

Amazingly, despite his relatively low visibility, the 45-year-old tenor saxophonist has produced an extraordinary number of recordings. Leading groups ranging from duos and trios to quartets, octets and big bands, he has convincingly demonstrated a capacity to blend the contributory streams of jazz into a creative approach that is constantly open to new input.

This week at the Jazz Bakery, Murray is performing in the relatively stark setting of a trio, playing tenor saxophone and bass clarinet with bassist Roberto Miranda and drummer Mark Johnson. And on Thursday night, before--sadly--a sparse but enthusiastic crowd, he bared some of the essentials of his expansive approach to improvisation.

Aside from the fact that he is a virtuosic technical player, capable of playing at astonishing speeds (his solo on a new piece titled "Mo' Bass for Roberto" was a perfect example), Murray also has mastered the highest register of his tenor saxophone. Rather than use it as an extension of the lower octaves, however, he took advantage of the opportunity to move freely through overblown harmonics for the expression of fluid, vocalized sounds, bursting with passionate intensity.

His bass clarinet on Thelonious Monk's "Let's Cool One" was an example of finding new instrumental colorations. It wasn't bebop, by any stretch of the imagination, and it wasn't Coltrane, but one could hear Murray's soloing as a rare and significant forward movement from those venerable icons.

Miranda, an occasional musical associate of Murray's since the '70s, was extraordinary, an equal partner in the more exploratory musical flights, a firm and steady foundation in the scripted passages of the music. Holding the rhythm together, Johnson's intensity levels were well-chosen for the music, but--as happens with so many drummers in the acoustically challenged Bakery--his extensive cymbal playing too often blurred the quality of his work.

* David Murray at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. Today at 8 and 9:30 p.m., and Sunday at 7 and 8:30 p.m. $22 admission. (310) 271-9039.

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