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November 2007

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David Murray at Iridium

While David Murray has moved away from the high energy of his earlier work, he remains unparalleled as a saxophonist and bandleader. With eyes perpetually half-closed, he makes every move look effortless. His playing, speed and dexterity, obviously aren't — as with Eric Clapton, the cool exterior can't hide the chops. But as a bandleader, he directs with just the nuance of his horn, pushing the music in one direction and then dropping foils, moments of cacophony in the middle of melody and seconds of sing-song in the midst of a hard solo, like a sugar cube dropped in a glass of bourbon. With his Black Saint Quartet, Murray played three nights at Iridium the weekend of Oct. 12th, featuring music from his new Justin Time release Sacred Ground, but with only Lafayette Gilchrist remaining from the album's lineup (Jaribu Shahid replaced Ray Drummond, Mark Johnson — who Murray introduced as having changed his name to "Rhythm Man sat in for Andrew Cyrille and, without Cassandra Wilson, the pieces were performed without vocals). The second set Saturday featured a long take on the disc's title track (Wilson's absence particularly felt), melding Murray's romantic theme with rolling dissonances. The piece swelled with waves of emotion, then imploded into an unaccompanied solo by Gilchrist that managed to carry all of the weight of the group improvisation. Murray's hard-edged days may be behind him, but his appearances in New York are still not to be missed.

Ballin' The Jack at Tribes Gallery

With the temperature having dropped 20 degrees over the previous week, Ballin' the Jack's backyard concert at Tribes Gallery was likely the last outdoor concert of the season. It was a chilly gig Oct. 12; the band seemed reluctant to start and the audience upstairs slow to come outside. They opened with a soft, rambling melody on twin clarinets (Matt Darriau and Andy Laster) and muted horns (Curtis Hasselbring and Frank London). As the group warmed up, they broke the more-people-in-the-band-than-the-audience line for a full yard by the fifth piece. The clarinets switched to alto and baritone saxophones, trombone and trumpet dropped mutes to shout, Brad Shepik and George Schuller started swapping smiles and staggered rhythms on guitar and drums and the band began to swing. "Streams , an original piece as yet unrecorded, overlapped moody melodies that stayed true to their pre-free roots and Laster's "Swing Moment No. 3 brought shouts from the crowd. But the highlight of the set came at the end, when poet, musician and Rahsaan Roland Kirk biographer John Kruth joined them. The band played extended variations on "Wanderlust by Ellington (another whose tune provided the band with its name) while Kruth read verses about jazz greats. "Mingus had fingers like knackwurst, he recited to an instrumental backing that spanned decades. The concert was a benefit for A Gathering of the Tribes, one of the last remnants of East Village arts of old.

~ Kurt Gottschalk

All Nite Soul at Saint Peter's

The Jazz Ministry at Saint Peter's held its 35th annual "All Nite Soul celebration on Oct. 5th and 7th, this year a two-day event honoring Dr. Billy Taylor. On Sunday, the church shook to the joists with jazz spirit, beginning with the premiere of "Jazz Mass , composed by bassist and musical director Ike Sturm, featuring choir, strings and a six-piece combo. Testimony was given through the night: in the spirituals of Carline Ray and her daughter Catherine Russell; in a reset psalm by Deanna Witkowski; in the swinging hymns of 'house' pianist Paul Knopf; and, notably, when Sarah McLawler sat at the pipe organ to give a roof-raising rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood . It was a gathering of genres and generations, from veterans Max Lucas and Fred Staton (97- and 92-years-old, respectively) of the Harlem Blues & Jazz Band to the young lions in Wycliffe Gordon and Winard Harper's groups, some still in music school. Highlights included: the caliente beats of Arturo O'Farrill, Ray Mantilla and Rolando Briceño; Alioune Faye's dynamic djembe; Geri Allen and Jimmy Cobb's duet on "A Grand Night for Swinging ; Frank Wess playing "Lush Life with Dr. Taylor, plus the latter's left-hand-only intro to "Body and Soul ; Winard Harper's charismatic "full-body drumming style (seen in several settings); Wycliffe Gordon's practically human trombone 'vocalisms' on "Green Chimneys ; and many more. Ten soul-full hours later, the faithful went home.


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