Jazz festivals typically trade on the cachet of well-known acts to attract audiences, but the best performances often come from lesser-knowns. At the 2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival
, one of the undisputed highlights was a performance by the nascent Murley/Braid Quartet
No stranger to Canadian audiences, saxophonist Mike Murley has accrued numerous awards for work as both sideman and leader over his twenty year-plus career. David Braid is about a decade younger, emerging seemingly overnight. Classically trained and relatively new to jazz, he's already established a strong reputation as a performer and writer. Expectations were high when the pair decided to team with bassist Jim Vivian, a veteran of the Canadian scene best known for his work with Toronto's Shuffle Demons, and drummer Ian Fromanan ex-Ottawan now living in New York and a member, alongside Murley, of Canada's most successful fusion group, Metalwood. But they're clearly borne out by this recorded debut.
The Ottawa date was only the group's second night together, following one rehearsal and a gig the night before. Still, they played with energy, versatility and ability, navigating Murley and Braid's often complex compositions and delivering on their significant promise. If the chemistry was potent in Ottawa, it's positively telepathic on Mnemosyne's March, recorded live at Toronto's Montreal Bistro seven months later.
The quartet defies the misconception that a dividing line exists between American and European aesthetics. The gospel leaning of Braid's "Say a Silent Prayer has a quasi-Jarrett feel that brings to mind his 1970s European Quartet, but it also swings like nobody's businessno small feat considering Braid's penchant for shifting bar lines. Froman's fluid approach recalls Jon Christensen but is equally informed by Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams. Braid's "Dream Recording swings harder still, showcasing Murley's ability to balance sheer power with a deeper sense of purpose. Vivian, an unshakable anchor for the majority of the set, proves an equally lyrical player, his evocative arco work defining the theme to Braid's title track.
At the Ottawa show Froman commented on how challenging the charts were, an observation born out by Murley's knotty theme for "Sheep Walking. The fifteen minute-long rubato tone poem "Cascade finds Murley giving everyone considerable room to stretch, then seamlessly segues into "Rundle, a 7/4 modal burner that pays clear homage to Coltrane and features Murley's most intense solo of the set.
For a group that convenes only occasionally, the interplay is remarkable in its understatement. Rather than aiming for overbearingly explicit exclamation marks, the quartet's subtle interaction is all about risk; but while the music often dangles at the edge of the precipice, the quartet never loses its balance. With two strong composers and a collective simpatico marked by a safety net of trust, but never a complacent feeling of playing it safe, Mnemosyne's March isn't just great Canadian jazz. It's great jazz, period, from a world-class band that will hopefully continue and explore just where and how far this relatively early achievement might lead.
Visit Mike Murley and David Braid on the web.