ROOTS ‘N’ WINGS / MURRAY: Hongkonkg Nights. Scooter. Spoonin. Obe. Blues for Ruben. Roots and Wings. SALESNY: Jekyll & Hyde / Paul Zauner’s Blue Brass: Mario Rom, tpt; Paul Zauner, tb; Clemens Salesny, a-sax/bs-cl; David Murray, t-sax/bs-cl; Klemens Pliem, t-sax; Carlton Holmes, pno; Wolfram Derschmidt, bs; Dusan Novakov, dm / Blujazz, self-produced CD
In this new album, trombonist Paul Zauner’s seven-piece band is augmented by avant-garde jazz saxist and composer David Murray, former member of the World Saxophone Quartet in the 1970s and one of my favorite artists from the early-to-mid 1980s.
Here, Murray’s compositions are much like those he did in the 1980s: somewhat regular in rhythm, not too far out in tonality, but multi-layered in texture with figures played by the instrumentalists against the melodic line that seem to move in opposing directions. In addition, his own solos are also as good as ever, using overblown overtones in an interesting manner (one of his early influences was Count Basie and Duke Ellington tenor saxist Paul Gonsalves, who Murray felt was a sadly overlooked influence on modern jazz). And Zauner’s sidemen are fully in synch with Murray musical concepts; just listen to the splendid solo played by trumpeter Mario Rom following Murray’s own statement in the opener, oddly spelled as Hongkonkg. When the leader comes in for his own solo, warm and bluesy, the trumpet and other reeds play interesting figures behind him. (To read some fascinating comments by Murray on how he approaches jazz composition and arranging, click HERE.)
Scooter is a funky sort of blues number in the manner of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, reflecting another of Murray’s styles. One of the most interesting things about Murray’s composition style is the way he throws little bitonal chords and rapid key changes into his pieces, and he does so here. The man just has what I would call a “natural” feel for music; nothing ever sounds formulaic or predictable, even when using what one would call standard jazz forms, and his solos always have logic and a sense of construction. Murray not only never coasts, he also never plays a note or phrase just for cheap effect. Like Charlie Parker, everything he plays makes sense. And despite the quirky little figures he puts in his arrangements, he always makes the band sound tight and the piece always has logic. Zauner is also good on this one, as is pianist Carlton Holmes, who plays a sort of atonal jazz chorus that fits in perfectly. I receive a lot of CDs for review that claim originality and brilliance in the arranging, but Murray really is original and brilliant, and has been for decades. (Sometimes I wonder if the jazz wunderkinds of today ever listen to the great jazz composers-arrangers of the past like George Russell, Eddie Sauter, Charles Mingus, Rod Levitt or Murray.)
Spoonin is a sort of jazz rumba in F minor with a middle section that moves all over the place harmonically, shifting keys several times. Listen to the great moving bass line, played double time, beneath the middle eight of Zauner’s solo. Rom plays somewhat minimally on here; his “chubby” tone reminded me of Clark Terry. The double-time bass line in the middle section is again repeated beneath him.
Obe is a jumping tune with the kind of unusual, chromatic trumpet figures in double time that Murray wrote years ago for the Butch Morris band (remember them?). The chromaticism continues throughout the piece, influencing not only the solos but also the harmony of the supporting instruments including the bass. Holmes’ piano solo is particularly brilliant, as is Klemens Pliem’s tenor solo, and Wolfram Derschmidt’s bass walking is outstanding here. Zauner slithers chromatically around during his unusual solo, and there’s a lot going on behind him: tempo and key changes, shifting rhythms, etc., before the band coalesces for the ride-out.
We continue our journey with Blues for Ruben, which again starts out like a “standard” jazz piece but quickly moves into unusual counter-figures. Incidentally, I really like the way Zauner gets the feel of a full big band out of his septet; this is much like the way Rod Levitt arranged for his small-big band in the late 1960s. Another thing I liked about all of these tracks was how well the solos fit into the musical concept. These are musicians who really listen to one another; they’re not just spouting out random notes in an effort to be “avant-garde” or dazzle the listener. In the penultimate chorus, Murray pulls out another of his tricks, the chase chorus in which the two saxists play opposing rhythms and also explore between-the-cracks tonalities. What a gem of a performance!
Lo and behold, Roots and Wings has a very strong resemblance to Mingus’ music (particularly Peggy’s Blue Skylight but also with allusions to other pieces such as the middle section of Eclipse), undoubtedly in tribute to that greatest of all jazz composers and arrangers. This is more of an ensemble performance at first but eventually excellent solos abound as this gentle swinger takes us to the finish line. In the middle, Murray throws in a background lick in opposing rhythm. Both tenor saxists play brilliantly, one following the other. Murray is the more outré, Pliem the more thoughtful, but both are wonderful. The piece surprisingly ends in a tempo half that of the rest of the work, again alluding to Eclipse.
We end with Jekyll & Hyde by the band’s alto saxist, Clemens Salesny, a piece that sounds like something from Ellington’s jungle band days with some modern touches. Murray switches to bass clarinet on this one, adding some modern touches to remind us that this is indeed 2019 and not 1929. Derschmidt also takes an excellent bass solo here.
What an impressive album! It’s difficult to think of another I’ve reviewed of ensemble jazz since Jungsu Choi’s Little Orchestra that has impressed me so deeply. Kudos to David Murray, a real musical genius, and to Paul Zauner for allowing him to temporarily “take over” his band!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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