Jamaaladeen Tacuma/David Murray

Rendezvous Suite
JazzWerkstatt JW 095

Tommy Vig Orchestra 2012 featuring David Murray

Welcome to Hungary!

Klasszikus Jazz Records NO #

After nearly 40 years in the spotlight and after hundreds of recordings, tenor saxophonist David Murray has become an Archie Shepp for the 21st Century. Although he has avoided the older tenor saxophonist’s sometimes self-aggrandizing political agenda, over time the Los Angles-born Murray, like Shepp, has moved from playing overtly avant-garde music to embrace Funk, Swing and even discs touching on the legacies of the Grateful Dead and Nat King Cole. Like Shepp again he’s still a first-class saxophonist. But spreading his talents so thin begs the questions of how Murray’s music should be scrutinized, and more crucially who exactly David Murray is?

These discs won’t do much to clear up the mystery. Recorded in Budapest, with a top-flight big band playing the compositions of vibraphonist Tommy Vig, Welcome to Hungary posits what would have resulted if Murray had been a soloist with one of those well-rehearsed, West Coast Jazz-studio bands of the 1960s and 1970s. Rendezvous Suite on the other hand, co-lead by bass guitarist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, has a mid-1970s New York vibe. It answers another question: How Murray would have sounded at the beginning of his recording career, if instead of playing acoustically with his octet, he had adopted a simplified variant of the Harmolodic style pioneered by Tacuma’s erstwhile employer Ornette Coleman.

The Hungarian disc is fascinating in a time-warp-like fashion. It confirms that Vig, a Budapest-born child prodigy, who following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution made his name in Hollywood and Las Vegas as a film composer, band leader and studio percussionist with everyone from the Miles Davis-Gil Evans big band and trumpeter Don Ellis to vocalists Diana Ross and Rod Stewart, has the skills to make any large ensemble sound good. The vibraphonist, who returned permanently to Hungary in 2006, has created orchestrations – and used overdubbing so that he can be the entire rhythm section – which make his all-Magyar, 11-piece ensemble the equal of any aggregation led by the likes of Stan Kenton or Ellis 40 years earlier. The focus on the official CD is on Vig’s percussive vibes work and Murray’s reed mastication. But in some ways the disc’s five bonus tracks are even more telling. Without Murray, the arrangements are more balanced and the ensemble looser. Besides vamping cross tones from the horn sections, the tune are notable for Vig’s bopping paradiddles and other rhythm work, as well as two vocals in Hungarian by Vig’s wife, Mia Kim of the 1960s’ Korean-American lounge act, The Kim Sisters.

On the official CD, while the arrangements are overly busy and take more licks from the Swing and Bop eras than any time since then, they amply serve their purpose. Vig’s vibe work throughout is expertly balanced between unforced swing and ringing narratives. In contrast, Murray’s speech-like saxophone patterns relate more to the post-Trane configurations; a tendency which would have got him thrown out of the LA studios in the 1960s and 1970s. Building many of his solos out of slurs, spurts and split tones, his excursions into false registers and staccato bites still manage to fit the orchestral conceptions. Even his sometimes stop-time and altissimo solos lodge comfortably among vamping saxophones, riffing brass, a burbling tuba line or a walking Bebop line created by the vibist’s arranging and the Vig-alone rhythm section.

If Welcome to Hungary has a down side it’s that despite employing a tárogató and a cimbalom player, Vig doesn’t attempt to integrate these unique, home-town sounds with Murray’s distinctive extended saxophone techniques and thus create a completely original program.

Another matter entirely, Rendezvous Suite’s tracks are as overtly funky as if they slipped out from a Johnson Brothers or Crusaders session of the late 1970s. Thankfully this CD lacks the crowd of additional musicians – usually guitarists – and over-production which characterized the majority of those 1970s discs – although it’s never exactly clear what keyboardist Paul Urbanek’s “recomposing” is supposed to signify. Still, Tacuma’s thumb pops and metallic-sounding twangs are as reminiscent of that era as are drummer Ranzell Merrit’s near ubiquitous backbeat, Urbanek’s jittering keyboard shuffles and broad organ-like washes, and so are guitar licks from Mingus Murray which range from overwrought kineticism to pseudo-psychedelic. Amiri Baraka is even featured on one track intoning yet another of his so-called Jazz poems.

Among the flashy guitar key clipping and simple percussion time-sense, there are some conspicuous sequences, as on “Hotel Le Prince (Movement 1)”, when Urbanek’s piano outlays some Boppish runs plus a soupçon of near-17th Century classical licks. Besides that, the operating strategy of the band seems to be the harmonization of keyboard and rhythmic bass lines; or matching simple keyboard tremolo with guitar strums. As for Murray, he lets loose with some double-tongued snorts and mid-range slurs. But even when he breaks up the repetitive arrangements with altissimo squeals or harsh overblowing his contributions appear secondary to that of the four-piece rhythm section. Rather than the Improv-Jazz relationships he would expose elsewhere, the saxman’s ideas are evidentially limited to his conception of well-played R&B. If he was still with us, Grover Washington Jr. could have made the date as easily.

If you’re a fan of well-played Swing music or Retro Funk either of these CDs will satisfy and perhaps excite you. But like Shepp, Murray has created more profound work in the past and is plausibly capable of doing so again. So guide yourself accordingly. Plus, of course, the question of who Murray really is as a musician remains unanswered.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Welcome: 1. Sahara 2. Buddy and Solita 3. Now is the Time in Hungary! 4. Rise and Shine 5. In Memory of Dizzy 6. In Memory of Monk 7. Only You 8. Vig Corn 9. I Told You 10. Only You 11. Me Shall 12. Veled Vagyok Meg Gondolatban 13. Fustbe Ment Terv.

Personnel: Welcome: Akos Tompa, Janos Hamori (trumpet); Bela Szaloky (trombone and flugelhorn); Ference Schreck (trombone); Peter Kovács (tuba); David Murray (tenor saxophone); István Elek, Balázs Nagy and Árpád Dennert (tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet); Balázs Cserta (tárogató); Rózsa Farkas (cimbalom); Tommy Vig (vibraphone, electric piano and drums) and Mia Kim (vocals)

Track Listing: Rendezvous: 1. Rendezvous (The Opening) 2. Hotel Le Prince (Movement 1) 3. Theme on a Dream (Movement 1) 4. Bring it On 5. How Sensitive 6. Theme on a Dream - 80s Downtown (Movement 2) 7. Theme on a Dream - Who’s That Ringing? (Movement 3) 8. Hotel Le Prince (Movement 2) 9. Yes We Can* 10. Rendezvous (The Ending)

Personnel: Rendezvous: David Murray (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Paul Urbanek (keyboards and recomposing); Mingus Murray (guitar); Jamaaladeen Tacuma (bass guitar); Ranzell Merrit (drums) and Amiri Baraka (recitation)