David Murray's expressionistic tenor work has infuriated as many listeners as it has impressed. Supporters revel in his extended upper-register flights and ballsy rhythmic drive; detractors complain about uninformed squawks, repetitive phrasing, and general showboating. I wonder how much of the controversy has to do with the circumstances of Murray's arrival on the scene. Having gravitated to the challenging "extended technique" of free jazz in college, the 20-year-old Murray arrived in New York in 1975--a time when the jazz-rock fusion was burning itself out and such avant-gardists as Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor had begun to reestablish themselves. By the following year, Murray had cofounded the World Saxophone Quartet and established his own highly visible recording career: combining his admiration for such tenor crooners as Ben Webster with the soulful shrieks of Albert Ayler, the young saxist showed he could simultaneously evoke and deconstruct the past. But right around the corner lay the neobop revolution of the conservative 80s, and that movement's obsession with re-creating earlier jazz left little room for Murray's undoctrinaire approach. In any case, he has continued to explore his roots in a wide variety of contexts. To my ears he sounds his most centered (and least frivolous) when performing with the Chicago percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, whose relentless search for his music's essence helps redirect Murray's wilder flights. Murray and El'Zabar have toured and recorded as a duo; the presence of bassist Malachi Favors and pianist Jodie Christian promises additional surprises and sparks. This concert kicks off a monthlong series of Friday-night performances under El'Zabar's aegis; future dates will star Oliver Lake and Arthur Blythe. Friday, 9 and 11 PM, Belmont Hotel, 3170 N. Sheridan; 642-9366 or 409-2606.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Gahr.