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Dave McMurray Trio at Dazzle

Geoff Anderson By

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Dave McMurray Trio
Dazzle
Denver, CO
March 26, 2019

Power trio. That's a term most often applied to really loud rock bands. Many such entities began roaming the earth in the 1960s and shortly thereafter. Bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, ZZ Top, the James Gang and the daddy of them all, Cream, defined the concept. They featured a guitarist backed by bass and drums and, of course, volume. Lots of volume. But anybody can turn their amplifiers up to 11 (or at least 10), but it also takes virtuosity and exuberance to create the true power. The "Power" in "Power Trio" emanated from all three band members going all out, all at once, all the time.

But "Power Trio" isn't something typically found in jazz. The traditional jazz trio has an acoustic piano in front of the bass and drums. And while certain piano trios can certainly cause plenty of thrills and excitement, generally they don't reach the heights of bombasity of the biggest, baddest rock power trios.

Then along came Dave McMurray.

McMurray, out of Detroit, takes his saxophone (and occasionally a flute) out in front of his enthusiastic rhythm section and, like driving a Detroit muscle car, opens up the throttle. Clearly this is one of the most powerful trios in jazz today.

A true power trio needs all three members to be top flight players; virtuosos, energetic, enthusiastic, each one must be bad-ass certified. All three players in this trio check each of those boxes. McMurray, front man and name sake, embodies those attributes and Tuesday night didn't let anyone forget it, even for a moment. As the main melodic instrument in a band without chords (i.e. a piano or guitar), McMurray played about 85 to 90% of the time, stepping aside occasionally for a bass or drum solo. His boisterous tone and attitude demanded attention as he swung back and forth between stating a theme and launching improvisational rockets from his horns. McMurray's playing has been described as "burly" and "swaggering" and certainly he lived up to that billing at Tuesday night's show.

Remember, to earn the moniker "power trio," the two members behind the front man (and the majority of power trios seem to be male dominated) have to go toe to toe with the leader. Drummer Jeff Canady did all that. Every once in a while, he sat back and kept time, but far more often he was all over his drum kit like an octopus on its prey. During one of his solos, he laid off the cymbals for the most part so when he did hit one, it was both startling and a refreshing new sound.

The other member of the rhythm section, Ibrahim Jones was just as dynamic. He played an upright electric bass that mostly sounded like an acoustic bass, but sometimes he ran the output through some pedals to achieve an electric, synthesized sound. He even threw in some chords now and then, mostly during a couple of his solos. Most importantly, however, he, too, had the spirit, the guts, the chops to generate the power needed for a true power trio.

McMurray has a recent CD entitled Music is Life (Blue Note, 2018). The Blue Note label is currently run by fellow Detroiter Don Was, late of the band Was (Not Was), a Detroit based, genre defying unit. McMurray was a member of that band, playing on all of their albums. So, McMurray's presence on the label is not just unsurprising, but entirely appropriate.

The bulk of Tuesday's set list was drawn from that CD, starting with the set opener "Naked Walk," a take-no-prisoners authoritative statement that also opens the CD. Things calmed down briefly with the next tune, "After the Storm," also from the new album, but the clearing skies quickly gave way to heavier weather as the tune progressed back into a Power Trio atmosphere.

Another highlight from the new album was from another Detroit band, the White Stripes with their hit "Seven Nation Army." On this one, McMurray interspersed the catchy grunge lick with bebop lines for a delicious mashup. All the tunes on the new album are McMurray originals except for that one and George Clinton 's "Atomic Dog" which we also heard Tuesday night. That one got the funk treatment. Of course! Speaking of the funk, another McMurray original, "Freedom Ain't Free" got the funk juices flowing through the whole band.

McMurray deviated from new material with several covers including Yusef Lateef's "Plum Blossom" as well as the jazz standard "Oleo," the latter proving he could cover classic, swinging jazz as well as newer, edgier material. However, despite his Detroit roots and his selection of a number of cover tunes, we didn't hear any Motown.

The piano-less trio gives McMurray plenty of freedom and puts extra weight on himself and his bandmates. But having cut the chord, McMurray has the kind of freedom so many jazz musicians long for.

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