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Murray Street

David Murray and Lafayette Gilchrist, An die Musik, Jan. 14

Christopher Myers
HEAD TO HEAD: (from left) Lafayette Gilchrist and David Murray come to blows.

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 1/19/2005

Baltimore is usually better known for the music it exports than the music it imports, but for a few hours Friday night there was no better place in the world for jazz than our town. David Murray, perhaps the best jazz artist of the 1980s, was playing An die Musik, a room so small that he needed no amplification. Sporting a baggy black suit and a bushy walrus mustache, the saxophonist prowled the blond-wood stage, filling the room with romantic melodies and skeptical variations, sometimes lifting his left foot and stomping the floor so hard that the front rows could feel it.

Murray was accompanied by Baltimore’s own Lafayette Gilchrist, one of the finest young pianists in jazz. The duo sold out two shows and almost sold out a third, added-at-the-last-minute midnight slot. They’ve been touring together for more than four years, and their rapport was obvious. When they tackled Murray’s recent Curtis Mayfield-inspired composition, “Sparkle,” the tenor saxophonist evoked Mayfield’s limpid, lilting vocal lines while Gilchrist conjured up a whole R&B band with the bass and drums in his left hand and the guitar and horns in his right. Of course, being jazz musicians, they didn’t repeat the R&B verse and chorus but rewrote them completely with each pass.

For such an avant-garde titan, Murray was surprisingly understated on “Waltz Again,” a moving, elegiac tribute to his late father, and on Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” But on his 1979 masterpiece “Hope Scope,” he unleashed such a staggering torrent of notes that it took a few minutes to grasp how carefully he shaped them into discrete phrases. Murray picked up his bass clarinet for a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Let’s Cool One,” and Gilchrist, decked out in a bebop gray suit and in a hip-hop Kangol cap, transformed the tune into a stride-piano showcase.

“It always makes me excited,” Murray commented after the piece, “when a young man can reach back to James P. Johnson and those guys who came before Monk. As I tell my students, the history of jazz is so short that there’s no reason not to learn it all. And this young man has.”

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