Picks and Pans Review: Live at Sweet Basil, Vol. 1

updated 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

David Murray Big Band

Shaggy and boisterous but capable of sunset-hued romanticism, Murray's is the very model of an '80s big band. The group's talents are vividly recorded here, which is a feat since Sweet Basil, a leading venue of the New York jazz scene, is tiny. There is no better way of explaining how versatile and cohesive this band is than to describe this LP. It opens with Lovers, a beautifully dusky, petal-strewn procession led by Murray on tenor sax, using his most sumptuous and cushiony tone. The second chorus spreads into a ravishing pour of harmony before Murray steps out for one of his typically fascinating solos, evoking Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Ben Webster all at once. Next trumpeter Baikida Carroll takes over for a chord change tour that starts in a gentlemanly way and builds to a complex, skittering denouement. Then the procession resumes, with a stunning solo coda by Murray that whizzes and pants and teeters all over the horn, finally easing the band into a chord that is like the "ahhhh" one emits when entering a warm tub. For the rest of the side the group romps around in Bechet's Bounce (all the tunes were composed by Murray), a goofy let-it-all-hang-outer in the New Orleans vein. Silence, on side two, is a sprint building to a series of spotlights for Billy Higgins, whose playful, witty drumming has the coherence of dialogue. The last 16 minutes of the LP are devoted to an unbuttoned but structured series of improvisations called Duet for Big Band. The ghost of Mingus seems to hover over this piece, guiding it as it shuttles audaciously between dense jungle and arid moonscape. (Black Saint)

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