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David Murray, Nicholas Payton, John Scofield, Mike Stern, John Abercrombie and Matthew Shipp

Martin Longley By

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David Murray at the Iridium

The New York jazz clubbing scene remained as vital as ever during the months of October and November. Usually, sets begin at their appointed time, as each venue adheres to a crammed nightly program, but for the final set on the final night of David Murray's Black Saint Band run at Iridium, the saxophonist leader strayed off, doubtless due to the delivery of an extended-blowing first set. Murray might be hard to get hold of, but once ensconced onstage, there's no stopping his energized flow of solos. It's almost as though he deliberately uses bandmates as conventional jazz foils. They provide a steady base from which he's free to roam in all directions, but usually upwards. Murray's soloing is as liberated as in his freer 1970s days but employing a tighter framework. His trademark highly-controlled cries and squeals are in place, and these lengthy explorations grip the listener throughout. Pianist Lafayette Gilchrist is fast building up a strong reputation of his own, with expressive outpourings almost as copious as Murray's.

Nicholas Payton, Steve Turre, and Pat Martino at Dizzy's Club

On the other hand, trumpeter Nicholas Payton is opting for an easier life, blending in to a fairly smooth mainline jazz quintet line-up, playing comfortably with snatches of New Orleans and Cuban tradition. Near the start of his run at Dizzy's Club, Payton reeled off a sequence of pristine solos, and regaled the crowd with a few vocal numbers, his voice certainly not spectacular, but still warm with feeling. Staying in the same club, a week later, trombonist Steve Turre also appeared to be putting aside his old adventurous character, delivering a very smooth set, albeit of mostly original material. Again, there's nothing amiss with the soloing, particularly with the magnetic sideman presence of vibraphonist Stefon Harris, but a genuine spark only really ignited towards the conclusion, as Turre brought out more than his usual array of tuned conch shells, switching back to 'bone for a climax that arrived slightly too late. The week after that, also at Dizzy's, guitarist Pat Martino sat in front of the Eric Alexander Quartet, not quite seeming like an outsider, but when his solos squeezed out, sounding like he was operating in his own universe, with a dense, scintillating tone that made his contributions lift above the band's keen backing.

John Scofield at The Blue Note

Meanwhile, another guitarist, John Scofield, brought his trio to The Blue Note, augmented by The ScoHorns. This is a combination which takes several recent concerns and co-opts them into a sympathetic one-ness. The jam band grooving that has so dominated Scofield's albums during the last decade is still allowed to pulse at the core, but the presence of the horn threesome adds a studied coloration, and the leader's own playing is becoming curiously influenced by the latterday stylings of Bill Frisell, with an increasing input of both country twang and a dangerously veering rock potency. In fact, Frisell guests on the current This Meets That album, so maybe Scofield is toying with those very parts. It's as though Sco is making an ultimate synthesis of all the genres that have influenced him over the last three decades.

Mike Stern at the Iridium

Sounding quite different, but roughly from the same school, Mike Stern was playing with his quartet, a month later, at Iridium. Here's another guitarist who seems in the grip of happiness, openly enjoying his all- star line up of Bob Franceschini (tenor saxophone), Richard Bona (bass) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums). Stern gives his all, as do his cohorts, with Carrington in particular rattling off some astoundingly fast stutters, and Bona performing some imaginative vocal layering tricks, his voice the pure embodiment of sweet Cameroonian melody. Amidst all this, Stern was almost the least forceful player, too awed by the contributions of his colleagues.

John Abercrombie at the Jazz Standard

The next night, John Abercrombie led his Organ Trio at Jazz Standard, with two sets differing dramatically. The first was dominated by original material, the second turning into a feast of standards, with Hammond man Gary Versace repeatedly pushing the music into a more adventurous zone. Abercrombie and drummer Adam Nussbaum are a comfortable team, so it was refreshing to see them challenged by Versace's slightly unsettling approach, as he investigated the high needling and low rumbling extremes of the keys and pedals.

Matthew Shipp at Columbia University

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