John MacMurchy: Outside the Ministry of Truth (2004)
It’s true that one can almost never judge a book—or an album—by its cover. In fact, when it comes to recordings, one shouldn’t even try, as nothing apart from the music is of any consequence. As Exhibit A, I would offer Outside the Ministry of Truth by Canadian saxophonist John MacMurchy’s quintet. The title is hardly auspicious, while the booklet contains two photos of MacMurchy, the first seated on a bench in front of what appears to be a bronze statue of a man, also seated and deep in thought, the second a frontal shot of the leader clutching his tenor sax, looking grim and bearing a striking resemblance to actor William H. Macy. And on the tray, next to the playlist, is a picture of an eye peering through a keyhole. Ominous harbingers, but what have they to do with the music?
Not much, really, as what we have here are fairly straightforward renditions of half a dozen superlative post-bop compositions by MacMurchy. In other words, even Outside the Ministry of Truth melody, harmony and rhythm remain securely in place, and for that we can breathe a collective sigh of relief. MacMurchy’s strapping tenor, which he plays on the first four numbers, is well-proportioned and emphatically modern, out of the Michael Brecker/Joe Lovano/Branford Marsalis/Don Braden school, and he has the chops to resolve easily any problems that may arise. To show his versatility, MacMurchy moves to clarinet on “Bayview Extension,” alto on “Through the Looking Glass,” and is as quick and sure-handed on either instrument as he is on tenor.
MacMurchy’s rhythm section is sturdy and tasteful, with pianist Robi Botos and guitarist Joey Goldstein making the most of their several solo opportunities while bassist Victor Bateman adds an effective statement on the sunny “Bayview Extension.” The quintet is enlarged on the wailing “Intruder Alert” by tenor saxophonist Bob Brough and baritone Perry White, each of whom solos persuasively, as well as bassoonist Kenneth Hodge and alto flutist Doriann Forrester.
Ministry or no, there’s an abundance of musical truth on this captivating studio date, an excellent outing for the talented MacMurchy and his able companions. We’ll no doubt be hearing more from him in the months and years ahead.
Track Listing: Outside the Ministry of Truth; Top Dead-Centre; Intruder Alert; No More Victims; Bayview Extension; Through the Looking Glass (49:35).
Personnel: John MacMurchy, tenor, alto saxophone, clarinet; Robi Botos, piano; Joey Goldstein, guitar; Victor Bateman, bass; Bob McLaren, drums. Additional musicians on