Live reviews

David Murray Quartet at Pizza Express, Soho (EFG LJF 2023)

David Murray Quartet
(Pizza Express, Soho. 16 November. 2023. First show. EFG LJF. Live review by Jon Turney)

David Murray in 2014. Photo copyright Antonio Porcar Cano.

Paying your dues in jazz is often bound up with caring for history: when you’re young you go seriously into the tradition; later, you turn to passing it on. David Murray, a wunderkind on tenor saxophone in the 1970s, is now an elder of the horn and turning to that second obligation with relish.

The reward for listeners, as for him, at this rare London date is that you do that by bringing new blood into the band. So while Murray’s last (superb) trio recording featured colleagues from his own generation, Hamid Drake and Brad Jones, he now leads a new quartet of players who are decades younger: Marta Sánchez piano, Luke Stewart on bass, and Russell Carter on drums.

And lead them he does. His younger cohorts are all brilliantly accomplished, but there is no doubt whose band this is. After the brief shuffle intro to the opener, Necktar, Murray is launched on his first, typically swaggering, solo, torrential tenor playing delving into freer realms, energised by circular breathing. Drummer Carter responds in kind, and Sanchez, who impresses throughout the set, follows the leader with some Don Pullenesque inside/outside keyboard work.

It’s a high intensity affair. Murray, as ever, uses the full range of the horn, and then some, and reaffirms his stature as one who has transmuted a deep knowledge of the history of the tenor saxophone into a recognisable personal sound. That extends to a bewitching tenor ballad and a sparkling bass clarinet feature.

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The leader explains it is the first night of a short tour, after which the band will record, so this is new material. Four of the tunes in this first show – the punchy Necktar, that bass clarinet piece, Seriana Promethia, the mellow (relatively) Anita et Annita and briskly bouncing Am Gone Get Some – are heard on that trio recording. So he means, I guess, new to these players. Murray, as usual, is looking ahead. While a player of his stature might have been booked for a bigger venue for the festival, it’s a treat to hear this fiery new quartet in the atmospheric space of Pizza Express. A studio date after the tour will furnish a small addition to the leader’s vast discography, but on this evidence a pretty exciting one.

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