Sunny with love and colors

There are now half a dozen regular annual festivals around the country, with the second international Jerusalem Jazz Festival beginning June 19.

sunny murray 298.88 (photo credit: courtesy)
sunny murray 298.88
(photo credit: courtesy)
The jazz scene here is growing in leaps and bounds. There are now half a dozen regular annual festivals around the country, with the second international Jerusalem Jazz Festival about to take place in another week (June 19-22). And it is not just mainstream jazz that is reaching ever-expanding cultural hinterlands. Since the opening of the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv last year, inspired by long-time New York-residing Israeli saxophonist Assif Tsahar's partial return to these shores, a burgeoning avant-garde scene has emerged. Last spring the club hosted top Chicagoan percussionist Hamid Drake, followed by two sold-out gigs featuring German free style saxophonist Peter Brotzman. The latest avant garde guest is the veteran Paris-based American Sunny Murray, whose drumshow comes to Levontin 7 together with Tsahar and Danish bassist Wilbert de Joode, on June 11 and 13 (both at 10:30 p.m.). Oklahoma-born Murray first came to notice after moving to New York and spending seven years (1959-1965) mixing it with groundbreaking free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. A string of other top-notch envelope-pushing jazz musicians, the likes of saxophonists Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, have also benefited from Murray's rhythmic genius over the years. At the age of 71, Murray continues to push his artistic boat out, yet he says he has fond memories of the early days of the avant garde movement. "I preferred it when people like Albert [Ayler] and Cecil [Taylor] and John [Coltrane] were around because we shared the same approach. But there is still plenty of work to be done to get the message of the music across." In a world largely driven by consumer-friendly MTV musical products, one wonders how Murray and his ilk get by. "There is always an audience for what guys like me are doing," he says. "We may not reach as wide an audience as some of that pop stuff, but I find there are always people who dig what we do and want to explore new avenues with us. That's very encouraging." Murray is considered by his peers as one of the great revolutionary driving forces behind the freer forms of jazz. He offered a new approach to jazz drumming which skirted round just keeping time for the pianist and wind instrument players and added color and texture to the final product. "I approach the music like a painting," he explains. There is also the matter of rhythms and beat. "A beat has a specific resonance, but that depends on where you make the beat. Sometimes the beat has a longer resonance and is equal to a tone." That may sound a bit technical and almost scientific, but when it comes down to it, for Murray it's all about the spirit and emotions. "I play music," he states simply. "In life, and in music, it is about loving and being loved. If you don't have love you can't play music the way it should be played." Sunny Murray will perform at Tel Aviv's Levontin 7 club on Monday and Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. Tickets priced at NIS 80-90 can be reserved at (03) 560-5084.