Murray, Allen & Carrington Power Trio, Perfection

Perfection (on the Motema Music label) shows David Murray in his finest form, and playing in his most simpatico band, in a decade, maybe longer. The bandmates are Geri Allen on piano, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, and that's it—no bass: odd, and possibly unprecedented for a Murray trio, but Allen's left hand and Carrington's foot pedal are so deft and strong, you scarcely notice its absence.

Murray, now 61, was the voice on tenor sax in the New York jazz scene of the 1990s. A romantic revolutionary, with equal parts Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, and Albert Ayler, he could jet from lush melody to sky-spinning excursions and back again, without ever losing the pulse of a song or the shiver of its emotional core.

Back in the day, he released a dozen albums a year, sometimes more (mainly on the Black Saint and Japanese DIW labels), led nearly as many different bands at jazz clubs around the city (including a big band at the Knitting Factory every Monday night), and played a key role in one of the most vital groups of the decade, the World Saxophone Quartet.

In the late '90s, he moved to Paris, broadened his palette (playing, for instance, with troupes of Guadaloupean drummers), to varying effect. On annual trips back home, he often reverted to form but rarely restored the magic that he'd sparked in combos with pianist John Hicks, bassist Fred Hopkins, or drummers Steve McCall and Andrew Cyrille.

Perfection (named after a previously unrecorded Ornette Coleman composition) comes close to capturing that classic spirit, though it's infused with others as well. This is very much an equilateral triangle of musicians—they call their group a Power Trio—and each brings distinctive flavors to the mix.

Allen, two years younger than Murray, grew up in Detroit, trained by Marcus Belgrave, and, upon moving to New York in the '80s kept her ears open—and added her own sound—to all sorts of influences, including the Brooklyn-based M-Base collective (which included Greg Osby and Steve Coleman), Oliver Lake, Charlie Haden, and Ornette Coleman (she's among the very few pianists that Ornette sought as a bandmate), and an intensive study of Mary Lou Williams. An album Allen recorded six years ago, Flying Toward the Sound, was, as she audaciously wrote in the liner notes, "a solo piano excursion inspired by Cecil Taylor, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock"—and damned if she didn't knock it out of the park.

Carrington, 50, an acolyte of Jack DeJohnette, has played with just about every big name in modern jazz (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz), leads the Mosaic Project with an assortment of female jazz singers (Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carmen Lundy), and is way less known than she should be (gee, I wonder why), even though she can do it all with aplomb, precision, limber dexterity, or whatever else is called for.

Of the album's 10 tracks, three were written by Murray, three by Carrington, and two by Allen. The ringer, besides the title tune by Ornette, is "Barbara Allen," a gorgeous traditional folk song that Charlie Haden taught Allen when they once played together. They all possess deep soulfulness, exuberant swing, and a raw, riveting blues.

I saw this trio play at New York's Winter Jazz Festival in 2015 and have hoped ever since that they'd make an album that lived up to the excitement of that concert. This one does. They play again, at Birdland in Midtown Manhattan, May 17–20.

Allen Fant's picture

Thanks! for sharing- FK.
what a line-up...

BradleyP's picture

Thanks, Fred! This recording is the best recommendation in months, by far. Normally, I put new recordings in my "In Review" file in my streaming service for a while before it goes in my permanent collection. This one went straight to my permanent collection in about ten seconds, and it only got better. Sonics are excellent, too. Reverb on the sax sounds electronic rather than like real room reverb, but it's not overdone. Piano is captured beautifully with believable heft and timbre.

crenca's picture

I heard this album on Tidal and added it to my favorites a couple of months ago - nice to read the background of the players

TNtransplant's picture

Great review FK, I just downloaded from HDtracks. Really interesting trio configuration and combination.

However, maybe it's me, but I kind of recall Murray first making a splash with the late 70's India Navigation lp's and really establishing himself by the 80's -- particularly with the Black Saint releases of his octet (Ming and Home are still perhaps my favorites) along with the early WSQ, Jack DeJohnette Special Edition, and his initial big band stint at Sweet Basil.

Fred Kaplan's picture

Yes, the '80s and '90s. I guess I said '90s because that was when I started living in NYC and Murray was, as I said, THE voice on the tenor sax. But yes, the Black Saints started earlier, and some of your favorites are also mine. I'd add Morning Song, Ballads for Bass Clarinet, Death of a Sideman, Shakill's Warrior II, The Hill, Sketches of Tokyo...; of the WSQs, Revue and Plays Ellington.