May 23, 2024

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David Murray is back with the next generation of geniuses: Video, Photos

Once regarded as jazz’s hot young iconoclast, David Murray suddenly finds himself a teacher and mentor to other hot young iconoclasts. He’s taken to it like a duck to water.

“It’s just so good to have young, spirited minds pushing the envelope,” the tenor saxophonist says. “This 68-year-old person that I’ve become, I feel rejuvenated and uplifted to have this youth behind me.”

Youth, from his vantage point, does not necessarily mean unknown but eager 20-somethings. His latest quartet features a handpicked selection of protégés — pianist Marta Sanchez, bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Russell Carter — all of them millennials (Carter, at 40, is the oldest of the bunch) with established and acclaimed reputations in avant-garde jazz.
The quartet premiered in January, with Kassa Overall on drums, at New York’s Village Vanguard. It performs in Washington, at Blues Alley, on June 29 and 30. “I cherry-picked my cream of the crop,” Murray explains. “I’m teaching them and I’m mentoring them in how to play with me — what I want, how I want it — and they’re very willing to come in my direction.”

That the artists are ready to follow Murray is no surprise: He is a legend. In 1975, the then-20-year-old arrived in New York from his native California and took the jazz world by storm. Within a few years, he was the face of the city’s loft jazz scene, a DIY movement in which free and avant-garde jazz musicians carved out a space for themselves in the lofts of Lower Manhattan. The Village Voice declared him “musician of the decade” in 1980.

He was also an extremely prolific musician, at one point releasing as many as nine albums in a single year. His music broadened considerably from free improvisation, often using intricate, hard-swinging, if not always accessible, arrangements. Murray maintained multiple ensembles simultaneously, ranging in size from trio to big band.

When the neotraditionalists swept in to conquer the jazz industry in the ’80s and ’90s, Murray managed to keep his career going at a steady pace. He came to be seen as an antithesis to Wynton Marsalis, a beacon for the music’s cutting edge.

Murray decamped in 1997 for Paris, where he remained for 20 years. By the time he returned to New York in 2017, he was an elder statesman. He maintained working relationships with some of his contemporaries, including Chicago drummer and percussionist Kahil El’Zabar, with whom Murray has been touring this month as the Golden Seas Duo.

David Murray (Jazzmusiker) – Wikipedia

Increasingly, though, his own generation, not to mention the older musicians who first inspired him, has slipped away. “I worked with some of the greatest musicians in the world,” but “there’s nobody left,” he observes. “All my rhythm sections have died on me. Almost all my guys are gone.”

Even if they were still around, though, Murray says that his creative sights would be set elsewhere. “That’s not the concept I want,” he says. “I want to have the energy of Russell and Luke and Marta. That generation of people, that’s the generation I want to play with right now.” He has worked with Carter and Stewart as a trio, including a tour this spring that took them across Germany and Belgium before wrapping up in Philadelphia. They were enthusiastically received at each stop.

Carter is a native Washingtonian. Stewart, who is originally from Mississippi, has lived here for more than 15 years, now dividing his time between the District and New York. “I like people from Washington,” Murray says, though their convergence in his band is a coincidence. “Russell is a very strong, beautiful player. Luke is a visionary: We call him ‘the poet’ because he’s very creative.”

The quartet, he says, “is about Marta Sanchez.” He adds that her presence entirely transforms the band’s dynamic. It’s a step he took with some caution, because he has often had a difficult relationship with the piano. “My criticism of the piano is very harsh. I expect a lot,” he says. “You know, the piano’s always playing. Either it’s accompanying or it’s soloing. That takes up a lot of space. So sometimes the piano just has to not be played, or else there’s no melodic space left for me!”

With Sanchez, a native of Madrid whom Murray first played with at a festival in her home country, he was both teacher and learner. “We’ve learned how to play together. She understands when I say ‘stroll,’ that means stop playing, in a hipper, nicer way. And then when she comes in, it’s her statement. It’s not a cover for the whole band.”
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