The last of the Magic Triangle Series for its 14th year took place at its old home, Bezanson Recital Hall, at UMass Amherst, Massachusetts on Friday, April 11. The performance - David Murray and the Gwo-Ka Masters: a seven man band for this session made up of Hamid Drake on drumset, Klod Kiavue on Ka drum, Philippe Makaia, also on Ka drum, Hugh Ragin on trumpet, Jaribu Shahid on electric & acoustic bass, Herve Samb on guitar and David Murray on tenor & bass clarinet.
A charge emanated from only one set of intensely rhythmic and highly sobering music from this band. Murray was the leader but frequently stepped back with respect to the remaining performers. Whenever Murray did stand up front with his tenor, he was creating the basis for listening to the music. It is the saxophonist’s intention to promulgate the origins of the music that has become jazz. His approach is to provide the edge and an invaluable personality to an endless pulse, the heartbeat and drive surrounding him. All the music played was a song, whether the melody and choruses came from an instrument or through chanting voices. These songs were often joyous; they demonstrated after all the spiritual nature of the music’s creation.
The rhythm section to the band was indomitable. The incessancy of the two Ka drum players reassured the atmosphere with a reliable backbone. The rhythmic content was unquestionable: no musical layer that was established alongside or on top of their basic line could conflict with it. For that reason, all the instrumentation could develop in its truest form. Often, beautiful bright synchronicity, flying out of the rhythm, occurred from the entire band midst the solos taken by the each musician.
The bass player, entranced and sometimes soporific, personified the total pleasure that rose throughout the concert. When he was on the electric bass, the resonance contrasted with the dampened sonoral penetration of the Ka drums. When Shahid took up the acoustic string bass, the view of him was a side elevation, his profile, facing the Ka drums, carved out a stark form; the timbre of his pizzicatos was totally different and served to underscore the quality of the drumming from Kiavue and Makaia.
Drake on his unpretentious drumset produced consummate focus beyond description. He held his drumsticks, one in each hand, parallel to one another. One stick hit the hi-hats and the other struck the side of the snare. One bare foot pedaled the clapping of the hi-hats and the other kept the bass drum going quietly impervious to any change. Drake came out of this triple engagement to snap the cymbals, snare skin, or tom. But he seldom disengaged from his original pulse position. Drake rode on the rhythm while he was making it: at one point his eyes were so focused on the Ka drums, the bond that ensued rendered an exquisite sensual picture and evoked instinctual internal motion.
Samb’s contribution to the group on lead guitar was indispensable. He would often ring in a bridge of lightness that lifted me out of the heaviness of the beat. The guitar was gentle and subtle and offered strength through this seemingly recessive character. The band performed one of Samb’s compositions in which he provided the lead energy; the piece was gorgeous. The notes progressed in a gradient of chord repetitions, breaks, phrases, to an ascending scale to a place of center, from where Samb could move in an out to create a slight yet continuous curve.
Ragin took his trumpet to highs that were unpredictable but explainable as essential to the drive and ambitions of the band; the trumpet’s smooth elegant brass lines completed the vast range of sound colors within the band. Distinct valving and resultant purity of tone yielded to buzzing and at one point playing with a mute, that in his left hand and his horn in his right. Ragin’s physical height topped by a brilliant blue skull cap emphasized the necessity of the trumpet’s inclusion in the band. I remember hearing music from Zimbabwe; the trumpet continually incited a spark that helped the music to breathe. This music originated in Guadeloupe; and the trumpet had a similar impact.
David Murray became the switch that ignited the motor into which the band grew. Murray played his sax with a boundless freedom . His confidence moved the notes from deep to sour, from bent pitches to pure tones, the phrases from collected groups and melodies to places of disarray and liquid, smokey blues. He fluttered and tongued the mouthpiece of his bass clarinet as an introduction to a funeral song that takes the dead to " a happy place"; the musical line was designed to a preponderance of slow ascension. All the while, he stood on an impenetrable rock solid wall of history and dedication to the expression of eternal quintessence.
We will all go there someday. And we will stay, blissful and circumstantially invisible because we will understand how to understand differences and beliefs and the songs. We will all be moving and bobbing our heads. And there will be no need to deny it.