Beyond category, experimental improvised music, Fusion & World, Groove & Funk

Dream Weaver – Murray McNabb 1947 – 2013

IMG_7710 - Version 2

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’.

Frank Gibson Jr
Frank Gibson Jr

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.

Kim Paterson - Stephen Morton-Jones
Kim Paterson – Stephen Morton-Jones

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

Avant-garde, CJC Creative Jazz Club gigs, Fusion & World, Post Millenium

Salon Kingsadore @ CJC

Murray McNabb

It had been a very busy week for me and I had not paid too much attention to the CJC (Creative Jazz Club) website.   All I could recall about the gig was that it would be something different.   The instruments came into view as I descended the stairs and as my eyes accustomed to the gloom I saw Murray McNabb.   Murray is a veteran of the New Zealand Jazz scene and ‘different’ is exactly what he does best.  There was a bank of keyboards, numerous pedals, leads everywhere, a drum kit and two guitars barely visible in the back ground.  I quickly learned that this was the release gig for the second album by Salon Kingsadore – ‘Anti Borneo Magic’.  Yes the title gave more than a hint of what we were in for.  An exotic improvised trance like dreamscape.   After a hectic week that was exactly what I needed and from the first vamp I relaxed into the music.

Salon Kingsadore was formed in 2004 to write a soundtrack for a play and their works are styled – spontaneous cinematic compositions.  Not long after that first album they were invited to perform at a film release in Italy.  These projects appear to be under the creative guidance of Murray McNabb (keyboards) and Gianmarco Liguori (guitars).  The other band members are Hayden Sinclair (bass) and Steven Tait (drums).  Murray McNabb is a successful film score composer having written for films like ‘Once were Warriors’.  Steven Tait

I have seen Murray perform many times and his own compositions are notable for the way in which he mines simple themes in subtle and deceptively complex ways.  He is the master of ostinato.  There are often references to modal music in his compositions (Turkish Like) but tonight the fare was more tightly focused.  At first listen there was an impression that the drums, bass and guitar were playing the same motif over and again while Murray developed the themes and added fills and colour.   This was not the case as subtle variants and accented changes could be determined if you listened properly.  Continuous and spontaneous improvisation over a vamp requires certain disciplines and foremost among these is a keen awareness of space and dynamics.  This interactive process requires everyone to participate actively and when that happens the repetitive transforms itself into something profound.

This is music that takes some right out their comfort zone as it references such diverse sources as John Zorn, film music, African music, psychedelic fusion and even surf music.   Someone asked me if it was Jazz.  I would certainly place it within the spectrum of jazz, but as an outlier with strong filmic qualities.  I have listened to a lot of John Zorn, Manfred Schoof and psychedelic Jazz Fusion over the years and so this was never going to scare me.

After a long week I quickly relaxed into the aural dreamscape unfolding.  This is music that you can dive into, swim away from shore and float free in.

WHAT: Salon Kingsadore – ‘Anti-Borneo Music’. Album release.

WHERE: CJC Creative Jazz Club – 1885 Brittomart

WHO: Murray McNabb (keys), Gianmarco Liguori (guitars), Hayden Sinclair (bass), Steven Tait (drums). Sarang Bang Records www.sarangbang.co.nz

WHEN: December 5th 2012