Review: Phelps/Murray/Grey at LJF

Bob Weir heard David Murray at his most Websterish, confirming his position as one of the tenor sax greats in a long tradition

The concert at the Barbican was billed as "Stomping And Singin' The Blues" and had an appropriate party atmosphere to conclude another successful London Jazz Festival.

Jay PhelpsIt actually started relatively quietly with a pleasant set by trumpeter Jay Phelps's new quartet. Having served his apprenticeship with Gary Crosby's various groups and as co-leader of Empirical, Jay sounded mature and relaxed in straightahead hard-bop mode. Six Degrees Of Separation was an interesting original tracing the evolution of the blues from Mali to the Mississippi. Another standout, Midnight Sun, had the leader caressing the appealing melody before embarking on delicate variations and then turning up the heat to burn for a few choruses. Ross Stanley's swinging piano solos also impressed.

David Murray's 15-piece Anglo-American band played the leader's charts with infectious energy and excellent all-round soloing. The funky rhythm section was especially strong. The numbers tended to be a bit formless and weak in melody but there was compensation in Murray's powerful extended soloing. The ballad, Hope Is A Thing With Feathers, had him at his most Websterish, confirming him as one of the tenor sax greats in a long tradition.

I didn't get soul singer Macy Gray at all - perhaps because I must have blinked when she had her sole hit years ago. Her covers of other people's hits (pace her latest album) had only a limited connection with the big band. Mostly though I could not relate to her croaky voice, indistinct words and frantic presentation. She took up half of Murray's set and for me that was too much.

I have to concede, however, that she pleased the audience and had them dancing in the aisles. In that sense the joint billing was a success and certainly ended the festivities in a joyful, uplifting mood.

Photo: Jay Phelps by Mark Beirne-Smith

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