At this point in his not-so-long but oh-so-controversial career, tenor saxophonist David Murray invites you to pick and choose. The most widely recorded jazzman of his generation, Murray appears on CDs with his big band and octet, as guest soloist with other big bands, with the World Saxophone Quartet (which he cofounded), and with a variety of different sidemen in small-group contexts. For me, the best format in which to hear Murray remains the smallest: his duo with the Chicago percussion shaman Kahil El'Zabar. Murray's hyperexpressive tenor work has infuriated as many listeners as it has impressed: supporters revel in his extended upper-register flights and ballsy rhythmic drive, while detractors complain about uninformed squawks, repetltive phrasing, and general showboating. But with El'Zabar, Murray always sounds focused and centered, tapping parts of his musical psyche that hit home with a quieter (and more effective) power. Perhaps the nakedness of the format requires him to rein in his wilder forays; I think it has more to do with El'Zabar's earthy timbres and purifying rhythms, which elicit from Murray some hard-won soul and a remarkably deep swing. Friday, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/David Gahr, Kamau Kadirifu.