On Saturday, October 2, the newly formed Mike Murley/David Braid Quartet's 12-city-17-day-cross-Canada tour from St. John's, Nfld. to Victoria B.C. came home to Toronto's Rex Jazz and Blues Bar, which Braid, in an interview once described as "earthy, organic, noisy, slightly dirty... full of people, where you can play what you want'"
So what does the Quartet want to play? From the point of view of David Braid, it is to continue to play his own compositions (now along with the compositions of his co-leader, Mike Murley), though not as a showcase of the almost orchestral arrangements of his Sextet, but more, as he once said, "to push the limits of my own playing in terms of improvising compositions" over simpler, less arranged material, adapted to the smaller format of a quartet.
How did it go at the Rex? Well, it's a little hard to say at this point, partly because the Rex on a Saturday night is too noisy and organic for me to listen carefully to music that still appears to be carefully composed and arranged, as shown by the profusion of charts on the bandstand and the tightly focused faces of the players photographed here during the first set. I can say that the music was intriguing and obviously excellent, but that neither the audience nor the performers got aroused until the last two numbers, particularly during the first set closing drum solo by Ian Froman.
Braid's piano, especially during a number like Say a Silent Prayer, displayed an interesting combination of cool, bluesy chops, supported by terracing of classical chording in a structure floridly embroidered in the elaborate finger-style of Art Tatum. In Memnosyne's March, another Braid composition, bassist Jim Vivian did an outstanding solo, improvising freely, including vocalized instrumental tones that picked up the piano and saxophone lines of the leaders. Mike Murley's work on the saxophones, alto and tenor, were warm, witty and downdigging. But an appreciation of Murley's work and the work of this new Quartet deserve more listening and study in a separate piece at a later time.
There is a major jazz initiative happening with the formation of this Quartet. It deserves more than a casual report of a single performance. Our intention is to follow this piece up with a series of articles including a report on the Braid Sextet's most recent CD, Vivid, and the Murley Quintet's Extra Time. And, of course, with a report on the CD that is bound to come out of the Quartet sometime in the future. Wait for it.