Saturday, November 1, 2008

David Murray Black Saints Quartet

10:45 on Friday night was when the music really began for me at this festival. I'd been to the Ilmiliekki Quartet at 9:15 but I was still thinking about the launch so my ears were closed. A couple of songs in, I left and had some dinner. Sometimes you just have to do that at Wang.

So at 10:45 I toddled down to the marquee to hear David Murray Black Saint Quartet. I took notes and they're not terribly legible the next day. I know I was tired because I kept thinking about how I should get a shot for the blog, with my little camera and was kicking myself for not bringing the camera, but of course it was with me, in my bag.


David Murray is described in the programme as 'one of the most important and accomplished saxophonists in the last three decades in jazz'. Gerry Koster, who emceed the event, said much the same thing, using slightly different words. All very good, but what I cared about was the next hour and a half of music. I was tired, but I was ready. Because after all, I was in Wangaratta!

Legible sections of my notes tell me that the first tune he played was 'Waltzing Again', dedicated to his father and something to do with Cuba.

The next song, 'Kiama for Obama' had the first three rows of audience (the reserved seats, nicely separated from those of us who take pot luck) moving as one. I had a sense of a large energy, I was so tired that sysaesthesia was kicking in. I saw the blue ocean, less fluid, more powerful and moving moving constantly. A beautiful tune. Oh, and Kiama is not pronounced as we do here, for the town with the blowhole in NSW, no indeedy. It's Key-arma. Which makes Kiama for Obama a nice ring, too! 'Our Man in Washington' as David Murray called him. There was a latin feel to this and we saw a hint of it as Murray walked away from microphone after announcing the song, with a little shimmy of the hips. 'Aha', I thought. We're in for some movin' music.

And then a tune called 'Banished'. Writen for a documentary about racism in America. The piece featured bassist Jaribu Shahid, bowing the bass. He was constantly adjusting his strings between bowing which must have been tricky. But what he produced was a range of soulful sounds that sang and roared, growling deeply from the bass. Then the bowing of the bass and Myrray's bass clarinet joined in a mournful cry

And then the highlight of the evening for me, and for others who have given me their punteresque opinions since was the song called 'When the Monarchs Come to Town' dedicated to Satchel Paige, a famous member of the Monarchs baseball team. It only struck me later that all through the concert Murray had been making strong references to racial issues, which are at the core of his music. And I was just listening to the sounds. Having just read John Shand's book Jazz: The Australian Accent I am a tad sensitised to the differences that may or may not exist between music that comes from Australia and music that doesn't... It became crystal clear for me last night that this is a big difference. Jazz in Australia is not the music of protest, or the music we use to cry out against racial injustices, at least not in the same way is it is associated with those causes in the USA. That's a real 'yes, obviously' thing to say, I know but you know when you have knowledge in your head and there's a moment sometimes where it shifts into a deeper kind of knowledge. I guess I was just having one of those shifts.

Back to the music. For 'When the Monarchs Come to Town', Murray again played his bass clarinet. A beautiful instrument - one of my favourite sounds. Tiredness and the disconnect of reason that it sometimes brings had definitely kicked in. He played the instrument with a percussive sound. A melodic tapping that he used to carry the tune. Enthralling sound. The sort of thing you'd expect for a few notes, but he carried the whole tune on it. And then occasional little shrieks and squeaks seemed to excape. At this point i was picturing a parrot of some sort, embodied in the clarinet, and wanting its voice to be heard. A little shriek here, a little shriek there. And then more and more strident until this bird was singing and squawking and the whole tent was thumping its feet. The piano (Lafayette Gilchrist) bass (Jaribu Shahid) and drums (Malik Washington) were on fire. And gradually the bird was satisfied that it had said its thing and subsided and back we were to the mellow bass clarinet. A beautiful thing. The song left me breathless.

A final tune, Murray Steps. Introduced thusly: "We got tired of playing 'Giant Steps' because it was too hard, so I wrote this and it was even harder." Murray thanked Coltrane for bringing spirituality and dexterity to the music. We all admired his own dexterity!

Later, at the merchandising tent where fans were lining up to have their CDs signed (as you do) Lafayette Gilchrist, pictured here at the launch -where he had been equally dexterous with cheese, crackers and wine all successfully juggled and consumed while being a very able conversationalist - said of being in Murray's quartet. "We just wait and see what he wants to do, and we go there. Every concert's different and we don't know what's going to happen." So maybe I should go to the one this afternoon as well...

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