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Milford Graves & David Murray

I had never witnessed a live Milford Graves performance. I had heard his playing on numerous records and recent CD’s. I knew of his powerful style and frenetic energy. I had listened to his chanting and foreign sounding communications that accompanied his recorded performances. I had always imagined that the wall of sound he created was studio enhanced. Special effects, overdubbing and extra tracks for all these percussive sounds that aren’t normally associated with a drum set. There is nothing normal, traditional or conventional in a Milford Graves performance, he embodies percussion. Milford Graves has created a style of drumming onto him self; he plays the drums with his mind, body and soul.

Graves incorporates the languages of the world into his percussive phrasing, you can hear Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Latin American rhythms setting the tone for his back beat while the over riding feel communicates elements of swing, R&B and soul. He plays all the elements of the drum kit, the rims, the shells, the outer edges of the drum heads. He modulates the tones through pressure, applied by his forearms and elbows. His body contorted in snake like configurations, allowing four way co-ordination and tone modulation of the drums. An effect that makes the allusion of numerous drummers. Graves has mastered the manner of solo multi- tracking.

A saxophonist and a drummer take to the stage, the sax player David Murray. He played with Graves in 1991 for the Real Deal album, a DIW release. They are both at ease, the first notes and beats that are played come together in unison. As Murray takes off in a dizzying display of harmonic intensity, Graves seems to run in a parallel line, with accompaniment that fills in time and space completely. Graves’ right hand rides the cymbal in a rapid rolling wave of highs, while the left hand in an arthritic looking posture, an inverted reverse hand grip that rolls in syncopated rhythms. These progressive beats run counter to what his right hand is playing. Most drummers would be doing this on their snare Graves has the snare switched off and he rolls around the drums, that is standard for free jazz drummers but he is all over the set with this reverse grip rolling thunder that creates a rhythmic melody underpinning the changing tenor saxophone stampede of notes that Murray produces. The bongos that are set up between the tom toms are included in a manner that creates a separate rhythm. So now there are three rhythms, all flowing, the cymbal the bongos, the toms and hi-hat. Add to that a separate element, the bass drum, there are two and at times they take on a heart-beat like pulse seemingly emulating the audience’s audible pulsation.

An energy field fills the small hall that is at capacity. The tension is high; the dynamic goes from intense to explosive. The controlled wall of sound that these two master musicians have created come together fitting neatly into one upbeat caught some where in the space of time that is only a feeling and closes precisely as one. The song concludes and the audience erupts in applause, the musicians appear pleased.

And so it goes from song to song, David Murray switched from tenor sax to bass clarinet. On bass clarinet he added to the percussive element with a percussive style of play. Murray gave way to Graves for a drum solo the solo turned into a drum dance as Graves moved from one side of the stage to the other with a series of movements that were part martial art and part African war dance or some combination of the two. Murray returned to the stage upon the applause and launched into an Albert Ayler inspired song dedicated to President Obama "Yes We Can". The duo finished with "Tell It to The Chief" a Latin inspired tune great rhythms and an almost constant ostinato pattern from Milford Graves providing Murray with an openness that sent him off into a dizzying flight of melodic meandering.

A tremendous performance and an incredible culmination to an equally incredible festival. Bravo Guelph Jazz Festival.

Please note featured photo by Peter Gannushkin/DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET of Milford Graves at The Stone, East Village, N.Y.C.

Report by Paul J. Youngman - KJA Jazz Advocate Sept. 2009

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Milford Graves and David Murray
  • Concert Date: 9/13/2009
  • Subtitle: Reunited in Guelph
  • Venue: River Run Centre, Cooperators Hall
  • City State Country: Guelph, On. Canada
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