Bryan Murray – Balto! (2014)

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In the same week where we’ve witnessed some pretty nifty melding of classic soul with hip-hop, there’s also a crafty hip hop hybrid that uses jazz — of the outer regions variety — as the other ingredient. Saxophonist Bryan Murray has long established a reputation of mixing jazz with whatever, most famously applying jazz to outlaw country through his Merle Haggard tribute band Bryan and the Haggards and also as a member of another guerilla jazz combo, Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord.

Like Haggard, Murray seems to relish that musical outlaw image, and that image will be reinforced now that Murray has self-released the first album under his own name, entitled Balto!. ‘Balto!’ refers to another one of Murray’s signatures, his alto sax modified with a baritone sax mouthpiece and a plastic reed that he calls a balto! with the exclamation point included. It’s just what you would expect a balto! to sound like: an alto sax with a nasty, scruffy attitude. Murray himself says it resembles a strangled goose. That sounds about right.

That all said, this is not a de facto balto! demonstration album even though this bastardized horn is at the center of every one of these eleven piece. The centerpiece is Bryan Murray’s mind, as he has applied his imagination toward making an outside jazz record using a hip hop approach of slapping together a groove using samples and loops and his balto! as the freestyle ‘rapper.’

This homegrown concoction made in Murray’s basement is a little nutty, but he also constructs some smooth, gangsta grooves (“Funkfurcurt B” and “Blastic” have irresistibly head bobbing beats). Other songs like “Welcome To My Sto Wo” are trippy, soul-jazz trances where Murray solos seemingly about a quarter note off of the melody. “What’s That Kid About?” finds Murray skronking over a stuttering, cyclical drum/bass funk commotion.

He even loops his own sax on “Defiled,” making it mimic an interwoven, repeating synth figure, and he freely improvises over this Devo-like mechanical groove. Elsewhere, “Balto! Paradise” loosely resembles the sinister melody of Coolio’s monster rap hit “Gangsta Paradise.”

And then there was that time he took Lundbom’s “On Jacation” and made it scarier.

It’s a little campy and a little weird, but plenty imaginative and ultimately endearing. Balto! shows how contemporary avant-garde music can also be fun music.

Pick up a download of Bryan Murray’s ‘Balto!’ for just five bucks.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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