Monday, October 23, 2023

Recording Recommendation: "Play"

Bryan Murray is a terrific sax player and composer. For the past few years, he's gone to ground, developing a number of projects mostly involving his patented "Balto!"; a tenor sax rigged up in such a way that it's impossible to play coherently.
Though capable of great coherence, Bryan is a fan of self-compelled incoherence. It recalls the way Picasso started painting with childlike innocence. Except it's not at all innocent.
Bryan has an irrepressible sense of humor, and while he's never gone all the way into flat-out comedy music (humor is always in service of aesthetic expression), there's usually some hilarity involved. His last group was Bryan and the Haggards, a group of NYC downtown avant musicians posing as... Oh, wait, I wrote about them here once, in a posting about "Bands I Like":
It's a little complicated. NYC avant garde jazz guys formed a group to pay tribute to the music of Merle Haggard. But there's a shtick....they pretend they really are Merle's band (sans Merle), but took some bad acid before the gig. And this makes them sound a little like NYC avant garde jazz guys.'s basically jazz guys doing an impression of country guys making fun of jazz guys. Woozy-making, hilarious, and well-played. I liked their first record.
Since then, Bryan's been working to incorporate a profusion of unrelated strands into a cohesive whole, while overcoming a tough paradox. Being super-gifted, pretty much everything he does is worth listening to, which makes it hard to really develop stuff, especially since he values edge and spontaneity, which can dry up from over-working. What's the end point? When, exactly, do you deem it fit to release (especially if everything's "good")?
I have the opposite problem. My first drafts are utter moronic slop, which I painstakingly revise and endlessly rework, praying that when I release it into the wild, there will be no remaining trace of vomit, and readers will be fooled into imagining that I'm articulate and clear-headed.
He just released a recording where it all comes together, and he's done the thing that comes hardest for people for whom things come easily: he really really worked it. I'm afraid to ask how much; I suspect even he couldn't say. And to say that nothing's dried-up would be a vast understatement. It's supernally moist.

No seams show. It's integrated and organic and far more than the sum of its amazing parts. Bryan's also a budding abstract expressionist painter (he, too, is a fan of my hero Milton Resnick), and this is the first music I've ever heard that does the same thing a great abstract expressionist painting does.

I wrote the following review on the Bandcamp page (where you can listen and/or buy the digital album if you'd like). This is written for musicians and music geeks; sorry if some of the references are obscure:
Bryan has blown up some cheesy “jam-along” 80s thingee, slobbered it with avante honking-and-squawking, and machine-gunned it with non-contextual Grossmanesque intense harmonic shit (IHS). Plus snippets of some guy screaming and gobs of other stuff feathered in so delicately that I can't honestly remember a thing (even re-listening, it remains impossibly slippery). We've seen similar exploits from the fertile mind of Bryan Murray. The hilarity is here, the fiendish cleverness, and the mind-fuck of parodying chops via still more chops. Deliberately pointless nihilism somehow grows poignant, or groovy, in snaky, untrackable ways. Allegiances constantly shift. Cheesy backdrops turn sentient, then hip. But this time is different. "Play" is thoroughly unified. Worked to a fare-the-well. Murray's signature obsessions painstakingly organized and seamlessly interlaced, dovetailed, and air-brushed into a whole as richly immersive as a great abstract expressionist painting. When the recording ends and the spatter's cleaned up, you've experienced a single solid thing. Frame it as parody, and you'll be cajoled into taking it straight. Framed straight, you'll wonder why you're convulsing with laughter. Bryan's making fun of shit literally every second, but I dare you to hold on to that view, given that he's earnestly killing (the good kind of killing) with everything he's ripping to shreds as he rips it to shreds. This is 27 mins and 16 secs of yin and yang co-devouring. It’s funny, grooving, ridiculous, savage, satirical, touching, raw, repulsive, and catchy with no strand predominating. Trying to hear it any one way is as futile as focusing on the green in a Jackson Pollock. This isn't a recording, it's a *ride*. The uncommon polish applied to this adhoc frenzy ensures that attention is tightly grabbed and never released, even if, god help you, your player's set to repeat it all over and over and over and over. Welcome to madness. You're soaking in it. LET'S JAM AGAIN LATER!!
I'm trying to do something new with my writing. More on this next time.

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