David Murray and Kahil El'Zabar

In a surprise visit to Ann Arbor, tenor great David Murray brought percussionist Kahil El'Zabar to the Kerrytown Concert House on March 30.  He is one of the most consistently satisfying players of avant garde jazz and he did not disappoint this time.  The Concert House is an ideal venue for smaller aggregations like this one, furthermore I had a front seat.

Murray has more rhythmic drive than any other tenorist in the genre, yet ElíZabar added something to the performance. The percussionist alternated between his drum set, congas, and a large African drum.  I found him most adept and original on the latter two.  On the second tune of the night, ElíZabar also grunted and moaned in country blues style and on "Caravan" he added some appropriate wordless vocals.

But the main attraction was no doubt Murray, whose cascades of notes were mesmerizing.  He is a master at building tension with a power akin to that of John Coltrane.  But he also has his own lighter and more traditional touch on slower tunes when his tone comes closer to that of Hawkins or Webster.  Murray is a master of the tenor because he seems to have complete command of the whole panorama of sounds ever produced on the instrument.  He played the bass clarinet with similar mastery on one number.  Murray produced a gorgeous round tone on the large instrument.

After a furious, fast and powerful number in the second set, El-Zabar pointed at Murray and said, "There are really not that many cats playing at that kind of level!"  I could not agree more and so did the rest of the audience, judging by their enthusiasm throughout the evening. photgraphs by Lars Björn