Mnemosyne’s March
John Kelman

Jazz festivals typically trade on the cachet of well-known acts to attract audiences, but the best performances often come from lesser-knowns. At the 2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival, one of the undisputed highlights was a performance by the nascent Murley/Braid Quartet.

No stranger to Canadian audiences, saxophonist Mike Murley has accrued numerous awards for work as both sideman and leader over his twenty year-plus career. David Braid is about a decade younger, emerging seemingly overnight. Classically trained and relatively new to jazz, he’s already established a strong reputation as a performer and writer. Expectations were high when the pair decided to team with bassist Jim Vivian, a veteran of the Canadian scene best known for his work with Toronto’s Shuffle Demons, and drummer Ian Froman—an ex-Ottawan now living in New York and a member, alongside Murley, of Canada’s most successful fusion group, Metalwood. But they’re clearly borne out by this recorded debut.

The Ottawa date was only the group’s second night together, following one rehearsal and a gig the night before. Still, they played with energy, versatility and ability, navigating Murley and Braid’s often complex compositions and delivering on their significant promise. If the chemistry was potent in Ottawa, it’s positively telepathic on Mnemosyne’s March, recorded live at Toronto’s Montreal Bistro seven months later.

The quartet defies the misconception that a dividing line exists between American and European aesthetics. The gospel leaning of Braid’s “Say a Silent Prayer” has a quasi-Jarrett feel that brings to mind his 1970s European Quartet, but it also swings like nobody’s business—no small feat considering Braid’s penchant for shifting bar lines. Froman’s fluid approach recalls Jon Christensen but is equally informed by Jack DeJohnette and Tony Williams. Braid’s “Dream Recording” swings harder still, showcasing Murley’s ability to balance sheer power with a deeper sense of purpose. Vivian, an unshakable anchor for the majority of the set, proves an equally lyrical player, his evocative arco work defining the theme to Braid’s title track.

At the Ottawa show Froman commented on how challenging the charts were, an observation born out by Murley’s knotty theme for “Sheep Walking.” The fifteen minute-long rubato tone poem “Cascade” finds Murley giving everyone considerable room to stretch, then seamlessly segues into “Rundle,” a 7/4 modal burner that pays clear homage to Coltrane and features Murley’s most intense solo of the set.

For a group that convenes only occasionally, the interplay is remarkable in its understatement. Rather than aiming for overbearingly explicit exclamation marks, the quartet’s subtle interaction is all about risk; but while the music often dangles at the edge of the precipice, the quartet never loses its balance. With two strong composers and a collective simpatico marked by a safety net of trust, but never a complacent feeling of playing it safe, Mnemosyne’s March isn’t just great Canadian jazz. It’s great jazz, period, from a world-class band that will hopefully continue and explore just where and how far this relatively early achievement might lead.

Whole Note
Ted O’Reilly, April 2006

I had only a vague thought of what it meant, so I had to look it up. Now, I’ll save you the trouble: Mnemosyne (nih-MOSS-in-knee) is a Greek goddess, the mother of the muses.

This new release, co-led by reedman Mike Murley and pianist David Braid, features mostly original compositions. They have called on Euterpe and Terpsichore, it would seem, for the music is lyrical and dancing. And whoever the Muse of Jazz is, has contributed ‘swinging’, or perhaps that’s the work of bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Ian Froman.

The first three tunes are by Braid, surely the most interesting young pianist in jazz. Say A Silent Prayer moves in and out of waltz time to lead us into the set (recorded live at Toronto’s Montreal Bistro & Jazz Club). It’s followed by the more driving Dream Recording and then the title tune, which is most certainly not a march. Vivian’s out-of-tune arco bass in the intro is quickly forgotten when Murley’s soprano sax weaves a lovely musing (dare I say) melody. Then Vivian’s plucked solo deepens the ethereally optimistic feeling.

Mike Murley, half a generation older than Braid, brings a different angle to his compositions. It’s lighter, more humourous, and often standards-based, as on Sheep Walking (from You – or ‘ewe’- Stepped Out Of A Dream). Cascade has some of the qualities of John Coltrane, circa early ’60s, unrolling out of tempo for its entire quarter-hour. Vivian’s bass solo leads into the theme of the next tune, Rundle. Ian Froman’s vigorous drumming à la Elvin Jones is appropriate here.

Trane made a defining version of Harry Warren’s mid-’40s song I Wish I Knew yet Murley puts his own stamp on it, as he always does.

The Toronto Star
Geoff Chapman, 2 March 2006

* * * * — Saxophonist Mike Murley and pianist David Braid combine their prodigious skills on this mostly-mellow live recording, each contributing three original compositions to the seven-track outing. The leaders get brilliant backing from bass Jim Vivian, whose remarkable solo bowing begins the title piece and the under-stated drumming of Canadian expat Ian Froman, now based in New York. The playing is assured, quietly intense, wonderfully imaginative, intricately propulsive — they make complexity sound so easy, proof of the ultra-high standards achieved.
Budd Kopman

The Canadian scene is like any other in that players find each other—and when things click, they end up in each other’s bands. This terrific quartet is led by veteran sax player Mike Murley and pianist David Braid, a brash youngster who is making a big and deserved splash. Jim Vivian, another veteran (whose playing was notable on Steve Amirault’s Breath on Effendi), plays bass, and Ian Froman, who is very active in New York City, plays drums.

This set, documenting a live Murley/Braid Quartet performance in Toronto in January, 2005, is made up of three compositions each by Braid and Murley, plus a closing standard, “I Wish I Knew,” by Harry Warren. The recording quality is high, the audience is attentive and receptive, the band’s communication is superb, and the stars aligned to make for some very exciting and rewarding listening.

Not to knock the other band members, but Braid manages to steal, in the nicest way possible, every record he where he appears as a sideman. How this happens is a bit of a mystery, because he’s not bombastic or longwinded, nor does he play particularly fast or tricky lines. His classical training is very easy to hear, since his touch is quite deft. His lines can be short or long, and they thread many different kinds of ideas together in such a way as to make the connections seem inevitable. When he accompanies other players, his musical choices support the soloists while also saying something pertinent; he swings like crazy, with intelligence in every note.

That said, this quartet’s distinctive sound is the sum of each member’s input. The Braid tunes that start the set naturally sound different from those by Murley toward the end. “Say A Silent Prayer” has a pleasant lilt, with a touch of gospel or blues, while a soft drive propels “Dream Recording” through its meter changes and chromatic line. The title tune, despite Vivian’s insecure pitch on his arco solo, is stately and graceful as the melody line unfolds and keeps turning back on itself.

Murley’s tunes are closer to a “traditional” sound, with enough personal idiosyncracies to keep things interesting. “Cascade,” a suite inspired by Banff, Alberta, has an ECM-ish feel of the north that includes some bass playing that’s reminiscent of Gary Peacock, running right into “Rundle,” which burns intensely and feels like a mix of Coltrane and Shorter.

In Greek mythology, Mnemosyne (nee-MAH-si-nee) was the personification of memory. She was a Titan, daughter of Uranus and Gaea, and the Muses were her daughters by Zeus. Perhaps the titular allusion refers to the band’s way of remembering tradition while allowing their “muse” to run free. Then again, maybe Braid and Murley just liked the sound of her name.