When tenor saxophonist David Murray first arrived in New York about three years ago, he was hailed as a Major New Talent, capable of revitalizing a somnolent jazz scene.
Murray was still fiendishly quoting his musical heroes, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman. It may have been a bit early to expect so much of him.
But the potential for greatness obviously was present. And from what the 23-year-old saxophonist demonstrated Friday and Saturday nights at District Creative Space in duet performances with flutist James Newton, he is moving steadily toward becoming his own man - and a major jazz force.
Murray plays with a deep robust tone characterized by an elasticity that allows him to move from long, winding gruff phrases in the lower register to piercing shrieks in or muted, almost violin-like sounds in the upper register.
On "The Hill," written by Murray for fellow saxophonist Julius Hemphill, and "T & E," written by Newton, the tenor saxophonist employed a highly ingenius set of melodic fragments. He played figures off each other, sometimes performing a continuous roar of blustery sound.
The appearance by the duo marked the first appearance in Washington by Newton. Only in New York since February, Newton, 24, came from Los Angeles, where he studied with jazzman Buddy Collette and James Walker of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
At 6 feet 3 and 215 pounds, he plays with tremendous power - and gentleness. He also has mastered getting four notes from his instrument at once, partly by using his voice.
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Newton plays with a big, bright tone and gets a variety of sounds from his instrument. He can be lyrical as well as raucous, as he showed in his humorously programmatic "Suite for Flute and Audience."
Murray and Newton, who knew each other in California, play together very well. They breathed and thought as one while playing a captivatingly somber duet passage.
Their music shows us what jazz is becoming.