Since the mid-70s saxophonist David Murray has thrived anywhere he’s put down roots. In his trademark woolly postbop mode he’s led groups ranging in size from trios to big bands, and he’s also performed in wide-ranging collaborative settings like the World Saxophone Quartet, a revisionist organ combo with Don Pullen, and cross-cultural projects with Guadeloupean, Senegalese, and Hungarian musicians. On his latest album, last year’s Waltz Again (Justin Time), he continues to explore, blending a ten-piece string orchestra with a terrific quartet featuring pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, bassist Jaribu Shahid, and drummer Hamid Drake. Jazz musicians have long used orchestral gambits, either to plead for highbrow acceptance (as with Charlie Parker) or to attempt more rigorous integrations like the third-stream work of pianist John Lewis. But Murray takes a different tack here, instead using the orchestra as a fifth member that contributes complex counterpoint to the melodic and harmonic shapes the quartet lays down. “Pushkin Suite #1,” a 26-minute epic, is densely packed with layers of strings that glide and gild, collide and collude, while the quartet dances in swing rhythms within the alternately lush and harrowing arrangement. The orchestral arrangements get too heavy-handed sometimes, but at their best they bring tension and heft to the music, stoking Murray and Gilchrist’s improvisations. Murray uses his meaty tenor brilliantly on his pretty ballads, and when the strings take a break the music is as lean and rangy as small-group work he did for the Japanese label DIW in the late 80s and early 90s. He’s such a prolific and familiar figure that it’s easy to forget he’s been one of the finest and most distinctive reedists in jazz for three decades running. The quartet on the album will perform here. Wed 3/29, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $15 in advance, $18 at the door.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.