David Murray

Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club
Jazzwerkstatt JW 073

David Murray/Chico Freeman

With Özay

ITM Archives 920009

By Ken Waxman

Over the course of his career saxophonist David Murray has blown hot, cold, but mostly cool. Despite making hundreds of records, few are first class, although most reach a level of high competence. Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club – initially released in 1977 on India Navigation – is one of his best early discs, however. Meanwhile With Özay, from the 1990s, is a top-flight vocal CD, where despite the billing, Murray, Chico Freeman and other first-call jazzers provide sympathetic accompaniment to singer Özay.

A Turk living in Berlin, Özay Fecht is an accomplished actress, screenwriter and director, who also recorded jazz with heavyweights like saxophonist Steve Lacy and Jim Pepper. So with Kirk Lightsey and D.D. Jackson splitting the piano duties, bassist Calvin Jones and drummer Pheeroan AkLaff in the rhythm section and a guest shot by violinist Billy Bang, this CD is no vanity project by an actress pretending to be Lady Day.

Featuring only a couple of standards, the rest of the material includes sophisticated songs by the likes of pianist Dave Burrell and vocalist Bob Dorough plus a couple of numbers in Turkish. One features her scatting in double counterpoint with Bang’s sawing fiddle; another has lyrics by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. Impressively though, Fecht’s English delivery is either lyric soprano bubbly or husky as if channelling Marlene Dietrich.

Murray is in particularly fine form accompanying the later, as with Ben Websterish obbligatos on “Antiquated Love”. Bringing a gritty parlando to “Without Rhyme Or Reason” Fecht’s melismatic cries are matched by Murray’s squeaks and side slipping as well as Lightsey’s metronomic comping. Outstanding throughout, Lightsey steers a middle course between both saxophonists’ bar-busting improvisations and the tonal qualities needed to keep the tracks on an even keel.

More than 17 years earlier, Murray and company weren’t particularly interested in lyricism. But listening to the CD, it’s telling that in retrospect these Young Turks, though identified as avant gardists, were as committed to extending the jazz tradition as Özay and accompanists were in 1994.

In fact, the saxophonist’s “Bechet’s Bounce” is probably the most characteristic composition. The performance could fool any Dixielander into thinking it was Classic Jazz. Here ex-Air member Fred Hopkins slaps his bass à la Pops Foster; drummer Phil Wilson’s backbeat channel’s Zutty Singleton; and Lester Bowie’s open-horned trumpet lead is as jungle-like as anything recorded by Cootie Williams. Around Bowie’s tremolo flourishes and whinnying, Murray weaves high-pitched soprano saxophone vibrations. Performed in broken octaves, the theme is recapped before the turnaround, while the coda involves an old-time rim shot.

Also notable is “For Walter Norris”, an ode to the pianist who was on Ornette Coleman’s first LP. Composed by Butch Morris and related to “Lonely Woman”, the piece evolves as the closely pitched horns modulate atop Hopkins’ bowed bass line. Bowie’s hand-muted, mid-point solo drips with tenderness until the mood is breached by Murray’s rough-hewn split tones. This jagged-smooth dichotomy is maintained throughout with even Bowie’s smears and growls staying connective. Murray’s agitato squeals may be discursive, but they’re moderated by Hopkins’ strums and Wilson’s drags.

One certified classic, and a little-known jazz vocal gem, both CDs are worth investigating.

— Ken Waxman

Tracks: Live: Nevada’s Theme; Bechet’s Bounce; Obe; Let the Music Take You; For Walter Norris; Santa Barbara & Crenshaw Follies

Personnel: Live: Lester Bowie: trumpet; David Murray: soprano and tenor saxophones; Fred Hopkins: bass; Phillip Wilson: drums

Tracks: Özay: Antiquated Love^!; Ancient Dancer+; Intuitively^!; En Güzel Deniz; Without Rhyme Or Reason^!; I See Your Face Before Me; I Thought About You (For Tom)+; Peaceful Heart/Gentle Spirit+; Istanblue*!

Personnel: Özay: David Murray^ or Chico Freeman+: tenor saxophone; Billy Bang: violin*Kirk Lightsey! or D.D. Jackson+: piano; Calvin Jones: bass; Pheeroan AkLaff: drums; Özay: vocals

— For All About Jazz New York January 2011