On Friday night at the Meetinghouse in Amherst, every seat was filled by those who came to hear Sunny Murray at the helm playing the drums, Alan Silva on bass, Louis Belogenis on tenor, and Sabir Mateen on reeds with second set guest, Raphé Malik on trumpet.
I went to this concert with a totally open mind: interested in listening to musicians I had never heard before in combination particularly aiming at being present for Sunny Murray whose performance frequency is small. Just as I had hoped, the band filled the night with musical contrasts that I did not expect at all.
Murray was placed in the middle of the performance field, only slightly visible due to his positioning behind the drumset. To the right stood Silva who faced Murray for both of the two sets. Mateen and Belogenis were to the left of Murray, paired together as the reed unit that they came to embody.
Murray evidenced being the conductor/composer of this concert. Everyone followed his lead. His lead was direct, rhythmic to a tee, but not in a way that was loud, cumbersome, and seemingly without limits. At times, the bass-drum-oriented rhythmic content that rose from the center of the group was astonishingly gripping. You could say; Where the hell did that come from? But, at the same time, you cannot forget that Murray is a master, has the drums under his belt, as it were. He moves around them as if to float and then comes down with a bang putting a period on the end of musical paragraphs of implied vastness.
Structure prevailed in the first set. The two reedsmen complemented each other beautifully. Mateen was the bird in flight and Belogenius was the ground away from which the bird flew. Each "movement" of the set seemed to begin and end in the same manner with the two horns’ stating the theme which the band would work through in improvisation within the body of the music during which Mateen and Belogenis continually traded places. Mateen’ s instruments varied from tenor sax, to alto sax, to flute & clarinets. Belogenis played only the tenor sax. The way that Mateen’s instruments varied predictably characterized the manner in which he stretched from low register arpeggiations to high register squeals. The instrument he would choose to play did provide color and accents for the constancy of the group. Belogenis hit peaks in his solo outputs as well in a way that his function in the group could withstand.
Silva became a continuo for Murray. Switching almost steadily between arco and pizzicato techniques, Silva provided a substance that never evaporated. Silva’s bowing is arduous. It is almost as if he is climbing into the instrument to make the sounds that expand as much as he can make them expand. His fingering nearly penetrates the sounding board as he presses the strings to make the notes.
In the second set, the musicians let loose. Malik’s presence lent brightness and clarity and fullness to the horns. At one point, Mateen & his alto painted an aural picture of cloud nine. The horns blended and drifted apart, then blended again. I can guess under the influence of Murray, who tends to be in the beat, then off of it. He swings, he swags, he hums, he holds the shape of the improvisation. He makes the first sound. He finished with the last.
This music comes from those who cannot be replaced, who are not, in the words of someone, I don’t know who, renewable resources. Murray is responsible for changing the ways the drums are played. Silva has been playing from the very beginning of the vanguard, often with Murray. No one in their right minds should look past how these musicians play, what these musicians, all, contribute to the cultural world.