David Murray Big Band, Birdland, New York City, N.Y., January 18th-22nd, 2011
By E. Joyce Glasgow
Tenor saxophonist, David Murray brought his 16-piece big band to Birdland, www.birdlandjazz.com, in New York City, for what is currently a rare U.S. appearance, January 18th -22nd, 2011.
This large ensemble features very fluid, confident jazz players, who have been given plenty of creative freedom for solo exploration and improvisation, giving all the musicians a chance to shine individually during Murray’s original compositions. Murray’s pieces have thoughtful origins, including dreams and poems.
The first piece in the first set came from a dream, simply called “Dreams”. It was atmospheric, feeling rhythmically to me like camels lopping along in a desert caravan, featuring a rich sounding baritone sax solo, by Alex Harding and building as it went along to rhythmical intensity. There were some other nice solos, including trumpet and an interesting trumpet and trombone improvised duet. Murray followed with “Stressology”, an upbeat piece, with a driving rhythm and a catchy roller coaster momentum. Again, great solos, especially a raucous and brassy tenor sax solo. Other compositions included during the band’s two sets were “Hong Kong Nights”, a jaunty waltz, with a notable piano solo by Adegoke Steve Colson; Murray’s arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s iconic and sensuous, “Chelsea Bridge”, which captured the deep and dusky sound of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with a full sounding bass solo by Jaribu Shahid and “Song About the Children“, a Latin rumba, featuring a blistering trumpet solo and a brilliant tenor sax solo by David Murray, utilizing his incredible facility for circular breathing.
“Blue Muse”, one of Murray’s older pieces, had a mysterious noir-ish quality, emphasized by Chris Beck’s use of mallets and brushes on the drums. The composition had a Latin undercurrent, with a deeper tropical underbelly and featured an intriguing wild trio of three trombones and a full and dynamic sound from the whole orchestra. The band also played “Crystal”, a piece dedicated to Murray’s nine-year-old daughter, with great solos by Murray on tenor and Harding on baritone sax and “Black Nat”, a lively composition, dedicated to Nat King Cole, with great solos on trombone and alto sax.
Murray introduced his composition, “Yes We Can- Black Reconstruction” inspired by a poem by Amiri Baraka, “Imagine Obama Talking to a Fool”. This piece is an uplifting and wild tune with a Latin flavor, lush and energized and featuring a burning sax solo, by Murray, a trumpet solo and Craig Harris, on solo trombone, who also acted as Murray’s right hand man on the gig, helping to conduct the orchestra all evening. On the evening that I went to hear Murray’s band at Birdland, we had the privilege of having Amiri Baraka in the audience with us, which added further excitement and immediacy to hearing Murray’s piece inspired by his poem.David Murray Big Band personnel: David Murray (tenor sax/bass clarinet/composer/arranger); Abdoulaye Ndiaye, Jay Rodriguez (tenor sax); Jaleel Shaw, Lakecia Benjamin (alto sax); Alex Harding (baritone sax); Ravi Best, Shareef Clayton, Omar Kabir (trumpets); Dion Tucker, Terri Greene, Craig Harris (trombones); Chris Beck (drums); Jaribu Shahid (bass); Adegoke Steve Colson (piano)