As a twenty something year old in the mid 70s, David Murray started a loft jazz space in New York called Studio Infinity, part of scene that was characterised by the sort of free jazz playing for which he’s now legendary (hard to improve on the All Music‘s biography description of ‘slurred glissandi, indefinite pitches, ambiguous rhythms, and altissimo flights’). It’s surely not too fanciful to make a link between that venture and the quartet of the same name he brought to St. George’s. There was a whiff of a late night New York club about the band as they strolled on stage, had their respective pedigrees rehearsed by Murray (including winning this year’s Downbeat Poll for drummer Nasheet Waits) and launched in into ‘Sorrow Song’ a medium tempo swing tune over which Murry seemed to drape the melody with a big fat tenor sound, before reeling off into melodic lines that slid over and round the chord changes or ignored them all together as he squawked and honked before sliding back to the tune. It’s a style he’s made his own. It gripped me when I first heard it on a record more than twenty years ago playing on a ballad and was powerfully reminded of it again last night as he drenched ‘Body and Soul’ with emotion, deconstructed the harmony and then left the rhythm section to continue. Whenever he was playing it was riveting. The bass clarinet came out for one, Art Blakey like tune and provided the evening’s most compelling moment as he exploited the full range of the instrument, snapped and squawked intensely rhythmic phrases and departed on a low feeding back note reminiscent of Pharaoh Sanders exploitation of that technique. It’s impossible not to be moved by his playing. At its best it’s like being exposed to raw emotion. Like all raw emotion it feels a bit unstable at times and the band seemed a bit chaotic at times, with Murray and pianist Rod Williams constantly disappearing on mysterious errands out of the door at the back of the stage during and between tunes (Williams even missing the cue in to a tune at one point) and bass player Jaribu Shahid visibly and audibly explaining what should happen next as a flight of fancy or ambiguity of rhythm from Murray seemed to lose the pianist. More than one tune was rescued by thunderous drum solos by Waits. And then they would find their pace and as on ‘Obi’, a Butch Morris tune, the trio of Williams, Shahid and Waits delivered a sizzling post bop workout. Edgy, chaotic, exultant and never dull. The Infinity Quartet certainly blew any stray cobwebs out of St. George’s last night.
David Murray Infinity Quartet, St George’s Bristol, Wednesday 16th October