Live review

Blue Brass featuring David Murray at the Vortex (2019 EFG LJF)

Blue Brass featuring David Murray
(The Vortex, EFG London Jazz Festival, 22 November 2019 [early show]. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

There was a palpable sense of expectation ahead of this gig. David Murray has long been one of the world’s leading saxophonists, recording prolifically across several forms. To be able to see him play in the intimate surroundings of the Vortex was a privilege.

You’re never quite sure which David Murray you’ll get – free-jazz firebrand, post bop modernist or master of the spiritual blues – and whilst the repertoire in this show was mostly at the blues end of the spectrum, Murray’s solos highlighted his expertise across his range.

David Murray, Wolfram Derschmidt and Paul Zauner at the Vortex (Photo: Patrick Hadfield)

Despite Murray’s origins in the free jazz scene of the 1970s, he most brought to mind players of an earlier age such as Ben Webster or, on a couple of the bluesier numbers, honking like Illinois Jacquet. And then he would release an intense flurry of notes sustained for several choruses by circular breathing and bring us right up to date.

The band was led and the project created by trombonist Paul Zauner, although it was Murray who picked the tunes and counted them in. The quartet was completed drummer Dusan Novakov, who kept it swinging along, and bassist Wolfram Derschmidt, who as well as being a powerhouse also played some exquisite solos.

Murray barely addressed the audience, though he smiled warmly at the appreciation he received. The only announcement was made by Zauner of the closing number, Mr PC. When he wasn’t playing, Murray sat to one side of the stage, looking almost frail. But when he was playing, he seemed to grow in stature, a giant producing a full, muscular tone.

His solos tested the full range of his tenor, from screeching heights to the lowest lows – often in the same fast run of notes. At times he made his saxophone scream, a heartfelt, deeply sincere blues wail. On a slow ballad, Zauner sat out, and in a trio with Derschmidt and Novakov, Murray’s lyricism shone through: it was as if the bass and drums were letting him fly. There were also duets between the tenor and the trombone, the two musicians exchanging phrases as if in song.

The London Jazz Festival regularly gets the biggest names in jazz; but rarely do they play in clubs rather than the city’s concert halls. This show in the Vortex, one of the capital’s best spaces for jazz and new music, was special from start to finish.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.

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