David Murray doesn’t play with a big band much these days, but he’s got one at Birdland in midtown Manhattan through Saturday, so if you’re in the area, check it out.
In the mid-1990s, Murray fronted a big band every Monday night at the Knitting Factory in TriBeCa (in addition to the various quartets and octet he played with all over the city). Then he moved to Paris and experimented with African and Caribbean music, but when he comes back to New York, he usually returns to his distinctive style of jazz.
He started Wednesday night’s early set with an original, “Hong Kong Nights,” and the band unleashed that special Murray sound from the first downbeat: the reeds blowing a lush harmony, the horns a clipped counterpoint, while Murray tapped into some hidden rhythm of the universe with a Ben Webster tone, a Sonny Rollins cadence, capped occasionally by an Albert Ayler outer-orbit flurrylyrical and frenzied all at once.
The magic unfolded again, later in the set, with his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” proving once again that Murray is one of the era’s great modern balladeers.