Music Interview: Murley cool in the sax

By Darren Young

On the list of cool and charismatic jazz figures, one name is unfortunately missing. The name belongs to none other than Canadian jazz saxophonist Mike Murley. Murley is a cool, confident character whose personality makes a perfect match for his playing style. A quick look at his idols like Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, and Wayne Shorter makes where he got both style and personality obvious.

“I’ve been influenced by [Lester Young’s style],” says Murley. “It doesn’t mean that I necessarily play exactly in that style. [Lester] actually helped me in playing in a group called Metalwood.”

Metalwood is a Juno Award-winning group featuring Murley on sax, along with contemporaries Brad Turner (trumpet), Ian Froman (drums), and Chris Tarry (bass). Though the group is about as far away as possible from Lester Young’s playing with the Count Basie Band, Murley insists his performance in Metalwood’s jazz-funk hybrid owes a great debt to Young.

“Just the concept of playing less notes than you might otherwise have to in certain situations,” he explains. “Sometimes less is more.”

Murley is no stranger to the less is more concept. In addition to playing with Metalwood, Murley also has a duo with guitarist David Occhipinti. The nature of this project is perceptibly based on the minimalist concept Murley references.

“The duo presents challenges none of the other groups have,” he remarks. “[There is] more of a dialogue with the person you are playing with. It can be rewarding if you’re with the right person, and we really love playing together. [The duo] allows you to have more of a conversation; it’s just the two voices.”

Together Murley and Occhipinti have captured this musical dialogue on two records, 2003’s Duologue, and last year’s Duologue Vol. 2. These albums effectively demonstrate the power of Murley and Occhipinti as a duo, as well as accentuating each of their individual strengths. The challenge of being vulnerable and exposed in the limited setting is overcome by Murley’s delicate and calm demeanor. With any luck, Murley won’t be left off hepcats’ lists for long.

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