It’s a little tiring when critics praise those living, breathing parts of the product they’re touting - movies, plays, music, and the like - for having such a good time, for truly having fun. “Having fun” is so entirely subjective that it’s difficult to tell when making a judgment call like that one would be really considered a true statement or not. Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry got the “Just look at how much fun they’re having!” treatment when The Whole Nine Yards graced theaters a couple of years back. Perhaps it was a ploy to sell tickets. Perhaps not. Still, it works with Like a kiss that never ends, David Murray’s latest effort in a literal sea of works that have come before it. He is having fun, loads of it. Not only is this one of the most comfortable sounding ventures out there spotlighting the tenor sax, but you can literally hear the man smiling.
His sound is at once distinctive—a tone that is as full and rich as it’s consistently playful—and gets shown off the best on the album’s title track, also clocking in as its longest at nearly 13 minutes. From the marching-band snare beginning through the tango beat, it has all the makings of a modern standard almost immediately. Not content to pander to any sort of musical norm, Murray takes flight himself just minutes into the number, refusing to follow along with the rest of the quartet: the power in the Power Quartet is revealed. He comes back now and again, content to work out a sort of call-and-answer with himself, matching melodic content with unbridled energy. He can nail the gorgeous ballads just as easily—“Dedication” is a worthy example of such—but he’s more of a mind to work himself into a frenzy over and over again, playing so hard that the only audible sounds that end up coming from his sax or bass clarinet are extended blasts of disjointed squeaks. Those musicians who play any of the reed instruments know it’s an accomplishment in itself to reach the tops of the scale, but it’s a feat within a feat to hold and maintain them for as long as he does. It’s what causes listeners in an audience to shake their heads in disbelief or shout their approval during a solo. And in Murray’s world, that’s the sound of joy.
His troupe does a good job of keeping up with him; John Hicks, Ray Drummond, and Andrew Cyrille are each allowed to expose both skill and speed on “Mo’ Bass (For the Bulldog)”, where his joining in after four minutes is nearly considered an afterthought. And ending with Thelonius Monk’s “Let’s Cool One” is a perfect touch. The only difficulty lies in whether he sounds better on the bass clarinet than the sax. Not that he thinks about stuff like that. He just wants to play. If that isn’t evident by his style alone, take it from the man himself, from an interview with the Jazz Times last year:
“When all is said and done, when we’re all on our death beds . . . then we can go back and say, ‘Oh, I shoulda did that, I shoulda did this.’ But right now, I could care less what the (critics) think about me. I mean, I’m happy when I hear the accolades. And when I hear something negative, I’m happy they spelled my name right. But other than that, man, I’m just kind of doing my thing.”
Just so happens he’s doing it well.