Daily Archives: July 19, 2022

“IT WAS WILD AND LOOSE AND FREE”: THE MICROSCOPIC SEPTET RETURNS TO NEW YORK (Part One): THE JAZZ FORUM, July 17, 2022.

Halley’s Comet comes back every ninety years. By those standards, The Microscopic Septet is a frequent visitor to New York: 2017, then now. But five years is a long time by earthly standards, so the return of the Micros is a jubilant thing.

News flash: the Micros will be playing their other New York gig at Smalls, Christopher Street, Thursday, July 21. Be there if you can or become a member for free, or better, make a donation here and watch the live-stream.

Michael Hashim, Dave Sewelson
Co-leaders, composers, arrangers Joel Forrester, Phillip Johnston

I know it’s odd to start with still photographs, since the Micros are such a mobile group, but they are terribly photogenic, so I couldn’t resist. One more:

Phillip, Don Davis, Dave Hofstra, Michael

And now to more words. The Microscopic Septet wowed us in two sets at Tarrytown’s hidden jazz oasis, the Jazz Forum (a wonderful place!) on Sunday night, July 17, 2022. They are Joel Forrester, pianist, composer, arranger, co-leader; Phillip Johnston, soprano saxophone, composer, arranger, co-leader; Richard Dworkin, drums; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Dave Sewelson, baritone saxophone, vocal on I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO CRY; Michael Hashim, tenor saxophone; Don Davis, alto saxophone.

And if you are new to the Micros — who have been visible and audible for thirty-and-more years — they are more expansive than my words could convey. They have energies in profusion, and they rock. Their rhythm never falters, and you’ll hear elements of the last hundred years of jazz mixed in a savory stew, always surprising: reed-section unisons and backgrounds, riffs and stop-times, passionate soloing that owes much to early rhythm and blues on one end, free jazz on the other. Strong melodic lines and lots of drama, leavened with humor, futuristic and earthy all at once.

Here’s the first performance of the first set, Joel’s MANHATTAN MOONRISE:

Oh yes, there will be more! But get yourself to Smalls on Thursday night, two sets.

May your happiness increase!

WE’LL MISS MURRAY WALL (1945-2022)

“Live your life so that when you are gone you are missed for a long time,” someone once said, and the wonderful string bassist and enlivening human being Murray Wall, who left us a day ago, is a sterling example. I refuse to use the past tense: as long as we can hear Murray, he IS.

A characteristic facial expression.

I didn’t play in a rhythm section with Murray, and I only knew him for slightly more than a dozen years. Others have better stories. We spoke occasionally when I showed up at a gig with a camera, and he was kind and friendly always. (Only once, when he performed his comic vocal variations on IT HAD TO BE YOU, did he ask me to keep the video private. And I honor this.)

But I got a sense of his looking-at-the-world stance: more than a little amused but keeping the punchline to himself for the most part. Even when his head wasn’t cocked slightly to one side or an eyebrow raised, it was easy to imagine their presence.

In another culture, he would have been the Sage-Storyteller-Jester-Advisor, and I feel that he was all those things, although he sent his axioms and giggles to us through gut strings on an acoustic bass rather than sermons or pronouncements.

His gentle slyness came through in every note: he didn’t take himself seriously, but he held melody and swing sacred. He loved the music — that’s not a cliche here — and love came from him to us.

HIs ensemble playing was “rock-solid” in the best way; he was someone you could lean on and never fear that the band would fall down. That giant woody sound, never too loud: a plush pillow with clearly defined edges. His tone. His note choices. His speaking way of constructing phrases. His solos were not ego-driven: no twanging notes to start off, to say LOOK AT ME, no scampering up and down the fretboard. Melodies new, rhythms strong, sometimes surprising harmonies, all sending joy.

Listen.

and this:

and this:

and Murray’s chosen feature:

I wanted to close with a blues, because I feel grief writing this post. But this is what I came up with: Lester Young’s POUND CAKE, which is whimsical and slightly at a tilt: joy to cut through the sorrow even though the sorrow remains like a stain.

Thank you, Murray. You bless us. I forego my usual closing in his honor, even though Murray always increased our happiness.