Only about 400 persons turned out last night at Howard University's Cramton Auditorium (capacity 1,300) to hear a fascinating jazz experiment.

The David Murray band, a 15-piece group of some of the most luminous of the young jazz players, tried to put into orchestral terms some of the concepts of recent experimental jazz -- squealing, raucous sonic tone devices, tumultuous collective improvisation and open-ended solos built on sparse harmonies.

It's too early to say whether the experiment works, because last night's appearance was only the second for the group (the first was in July 1978).

The band swings with a mighty aggregate force, and several soloists are impressive. But the group's instrumentation (trumpets, trombones and saxophones) is as old as the big band jazz idea that started in the 1920s. New tone colors usually come with unusual instrumentation or with a gifted arranger. But not so here. Lawrence "Butch" Morris' forte seems to be deploying blocks of dense sounds.

However, the group's performance of "Patricia" and "Flowers for Albert," both of which featured slap-tongue, burlesque sweet melodies, was immensely appealing. Tenor saxophonist Murray also played behind poet Amiri Barka, who delivered a bristling, staccato poem about civil rights activist Robert Williams and worldwide revolution.