Murray McNabb left us on the 9th June 2013, just missing his scheduled gig at the Auckland Jazz & Blues Club. His keyboards may have fallen silent but not so the band who played on out of respect. Mike Walker an old friend, was approached by Murray just days before he died, to stand in if he didn’t make the gig. The gig may have invoked a plethora of memories and been tinged with sadness, but it was clear that Murray would live on through his musical legacy. This was a musician who fearlessly patrolled the outer reaches of the sonic universe and I like to think that his ‘Astral Surfers’ album will be poured over by intergalactic cosmonaut’s as they look for clues or perhaps navigation hints from ‘Ancient Flight Texts’.
I was at Mt Albert Grammar at the same time as Murray and Frank Gibson, but they were more than a year ahead of me and both were prefects. I was deeply into Jazz as a school boy and I knew that they were as well, but the gap between a fifth and a seventh former is sadly too far to bridge. Fifth formers just didn’t hang with prefects and I regret that now. I have followed Murray’s (and Franks’s) career ever since.
Murray McNabb was at the heart of the Auckland Jazz Scene and everyone respected his prodigious musical output. The key to his music lies with the man, as music made him happy and improvised music even more so. He was a man perpetually on the edge of a great adventure, navigating only by his innate sense of groove and an inner vision of the boundless vista’s that lay ahead. Like Mike Nock he never settled for the ordinary, always pushing hard against the boundaries. As much as I like his straight ahead records such as the lovely ‘Song for the Dream Weaver’, it is to his ‘out’ offerings that I return to again and again.
A largely self-taught keyboardist, he continued to explore the possibilities of Synths (and his beloved Fender Rhodes) during a period when others weren’t so keen. In many ways improvised music has now come full cycle, as a younger generation continue the explorations, aided by clever machines and astonishing pedals. Murray can take much credit for enabling a younger generation of local musicians to pick up on that. His collaborations with Gianmarco Liguori in particular come to mind. I regard ‘Ancient Flight Text’, a Liguori directed collaboration between him, Murray and Kim Paterson as a masterpiece. If released by ECM, wide acclaim would follow.
Murray is known to all New Zealanders whether they realise it or not, as his collaborations with Murray Grindly produced film scores (e.g. Once were Warriors, Greenstone) and countless well-known TV adverts. He never spoke ill of this work as it allowed him to simultaneously pursue his Jazz career.
The gig at the Auckland Jazz & Blues club was part wake (as old friends came up one by one to perform or to read eulogies) and part concert. In my view it was Murray’s closest collaborators who stole the show and spoke for him best. Frank Gibson Jr (drums), Kim Paterson (valve trombone), Neil Watson (guitar), Denny Boreham (bass) and Stephen Morton-Jones (sax). In Murray’s place was Mike Walker on piano. During the second set the band played a Jazz fusion number composed by Murray years earlier. Frank Gibson started the pulse with an insistent clipped beat similar to that used in Pharaohs Dance (Bitches Brew). One-two, one-two, one-two, one-two. The others moved in and out of the mix, weaving short phrases around the beat and creating layers of haunting sound. No complex melody, harmonies that shimmered, as illusive as a mirage. Out of this tribute I formed the strongest view of Murray’s output. He seldom relied upon complex changes to achieve his ends. Many of his compositions had no bridge or recognisable head. He could say more by improvising against a drone or by working a simple vamp than almost anyone else on the scene.
Murray was a joyful explorer and he worked best when there was little chance of rescue. His music was wonderful and he took that last step as bravely as he embarked upon all of his journeys.
For his recordings contact: www.sarangbang.co.nz