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Sax & Piano: David Murray and Mal Waldron; Ellery Eskelin and Sylvie Courvoisier

Kurt Gottschalk By

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David Murray / Mal Waldron
Silence
Justin Time
2008


Ellery Eskelin / Sylvie Courvoisier
Every So Often
Prime Source
2008


Part of what makes David Murray one of the greatest jazz saxophonists there is is the way he has of making everything seem so effortless. Long, rich, rolling lines seem to flow with ease from his horn. It's that quality that makes a small portion of his enormous discography all the more special. Once in a while, when working with one of his elders, Murray seems reverent, even humbled. If much of the time his playing seems as simple as telling a tale, occasionally—when playing with the likes of Milford Graves, McCoy Tyner or, as on Silence with Mal Waldron—he sounds like he's pushing for higher ground.

Murray and Waldron came together in 2001, a year before the pianist's death, for a two-day session that is only now seeing release—surprising given what an exceptional record was made. They open with the beautiful "Free for C.T.," composed by Waldron and Max Roach and it speaks to both Waldron and Murray's individual talents and their deep listening that they can cover so much ground in a 10-minute ballad, never resting on the melody but never overstating the case. The energy builds on the second tune, Murray's title track (his only composer credit here), the name of which almost seems like a joke given how quickly they press to harder edges. There as always, Waldron has a wonderful ability to inhabit both back- and foreground, playing quick, soft progressions while dropping heavy single notes. They go on to cover Sammy Cahn ("I Should Care"), Miles Davis ("Jean-Pierre") and Duke Ellington ("All Too Soon"), closing with Waldron's "Soul Eyes," sounding wonderful throughout. And the sound here is notable. Waldron's Steinway couldn't be warmer and Murray (on tenor sax and bass clarinet) is so closely mic'd that his swaying from left to right is reproduced in living stereo.

The surprise in Ellery Eskelin and Sylvie Courvoisier's sax/piano duo Every So Often is how relatively inside the two experimenters were. They've certainly gone spelunking together, notably in their trio with Vincent Courtois, adventurously seeking new sounds and textures, but here they sound relaxed. They're certainly not playing standards or heads, but there's something nicely at ease about the proceedings. Courvoisier—who is one of the finest of piano preparers, often playing inside the case and using tape and small objects to alter the sound of the strings—spends a fair bit of time on the keyboard here. Which is not to say all is convention. At midpoint the piano is trembling with muted clatters, adding a percussive aspect to her quick chordings, with Eskelin's tenor somehow residing right in the middle. But perhaps the nicest of the nine tracks here are the ones in which the duo defies expectations by simply playing warm, spontaneous improvisations. In the pocket, maybe, but it's their pocket they're in.


Tracks and Personnel

Silence

Tracks: Free for C.T.; Silence; Hurray for Herbie; I Should Care; Jean-Pierre; All Too Soon; Soul Eyes

Personnel: David Murray: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Mal Waldron: piano

Every So Often

Tracks: Moderato Cantabile; Architectural; A Distant Place; Every So Often; Open Channel; Accidentals; Wave Off; Blind Spot; Processing

Personnel: Ellery Eskelin: tenor saxophone; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano


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