The David Murray Guide (2020)

This is a supplement to my David Murray Guide, published by The Village Voice on May 20, 2006. It is mostly collected from my Jazz Guide draft files. Note that I revised my grade scale there: A as well as A+ became [10], A- [9], B+ stars range [6-8] or [+] where I didn't use stars; B is [5], B- [4], C+ [3], C [2], lower is [1] (or maybe [0], I forget). Also note that the two Guides have different ordering conventions: pre-2000 I order by recording data, post-2000 by release date. In both, I list groups after individuals, but sometimes place group credits under individuals, but I've tried to move them back here (also treating World Saxophone Quartet as a special case).

David Murray

B. 1955; tenor saxophone, bass clarinet.

Born 1955 in California, David Murray fed on church, funk, and the great saxophonists of the '60s -- Albert Ayler and Paul Gonsalves were key influences, but sooner or later Murray mastered everyone while never sounding like anyone else. By 1975 when he moved to New York avant-jazz had gone underground, and Murray dug deep, recording prolifically for tiny labels -- 90 as a leader, 90 more as a sideman (including 20 with the World Saxophone Quartet). Far and away the greatest tenor saxophonist of his generation, his records are hard to find and little known -- with the demise of DIW, half of the records below are out of print.

David Murray: Low Class Conspiracy (1976, Adelphi) At twenty-one, Murray moved to New York from California and bulled his way into the lofts that had become one of the avant-garde's last refuges. His first studio album was a trio where he yielded a lot of space to bassist Fred Hopkins, including a solo dedicated to Jimmy Garrison. But he already shows his trademark chops, especially his skill at punctuating stratospheric runs with abrupt honks. [9]

David Murray: Flowers for Albert: The Complete Concert (1976, India Navigation 2CD -97) Penguin Guide lists Flowers for Albert as a 4-star record, but closer inspection reveals something fishy. This one is IN 2026; their one is IN 2004. This one was recorded 1976-06-26 with Olu Dara, Fred Hopkins and Phillip Wilson; their one was recorded 1977-09 with Butch Morris, Don Pullen, Fred Hopkins and Stanley Crouch (the writer on drums). So clearly they're not the same records, but I can't find any other corroboration for IN 2004. Closest match in Murray sessionography (which, btw, I suspect is incomplete -- certainly isn't up to date) is a 1977-08-17 record, West Wind 2039, also called Flowers for Albert, released 1990, combining two LPs originally released on Circle. This one expands an LP with three additional tracks, 45:47 of new music, which slops about half-way onto a second CD. Same lineup as Low Class Conspiracy except that this one has Olu Dara on trumpet, a second horn that takes some of the focus off Murray -- 21 years old, and already a very imposing performer. On the basis of focus and sound, I give the nod to the studio album. Those are the only two Murray albums I have before Sweet Lovely, his second album for Black Saint. There's a fair amount of live material in his discography, very little of which is still in print. This is a good one, but perhaps a bit of caution is in order. [8]

David Murray & Low Class Conspiracy: At the Bim Huis: First Set (1977, Circle -98) One of a handful of live albums from Murray's early years. Many different ways the artist name and title could be parsed. The spine says David Murray Quintet. The back cover adds "featuring Don Pullen and Stanley Crouch." Why someone would be more impressed with Crouch on drums than Butch Morris on cornet and Fred Hopkins on bass beats me, but even the most marginal of labels think they have marketing geniuses. The music isn't exceptional, but Pullen's part is interesting, and ordinary Murray is still pretty impressive. [6]

David Murray: Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club (1977, Jazzwerkstatt -10) In 2006 I was one of five writers asked to work up a consumer guide to the records of a jazz great. I was the only one to pick a living artist: tenor saxophonist David Murray, b. 1955 in California, raised on church, funk, and saxophonists from Paul Gonsalves to Albert Ayler. (The others opted for Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sun Ra.) I managed to pick out and write short reviews of seventeen key albums, from Low Class Conspiracy in 1976 through Now Is Another Time in 2003. At the time I credited him with 90 albums as a leader and 90 more as a sideman, and figured I had heard 60 + 40 of them -- pretty good that that left some gaps, most notably in the late 1970s when he moved to New York and took the "jazz loft scene" by storm. That period is mostly documented by live albums like this one on defunct labels: this set was originally released by India Navigation on two LPs, then in 1989 was squeezed onto one CD by hacking about eight minutes off the last song. It's finally back in print, the times slightly rejiggered from the CD. It's not a long lost classic, but it has historical interest -- for one thing, Murray plans soprano sax on his trashed trad jazz "Bechet's Bounce" -- and then some. A quartet with Lester Bowie the opposite horn, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Phillip Wilson on drums. Hopkins is already a fascinating player, and Bowie's wit complements Murray's power. [7]

David Murray: Let the Music Take You (1978, Marge): Tenor saxophonist, early quartet, with Lawrence "Butch" Morris (cornet), Johnny Dyani (bass), and George Brown (drums), live shot from Rouen, France. Strong performance, wobbles a bit. [8]

David Murray Trio: 3D Family (1978, Hatology -06) Early in Murray's career, just before the Black Saint recordings that established his career and effectively ended the decade-long exile of the avant-garde to the lofts of New York; live in Willisau with South Africans Johnny Dyani on bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums, a bit on the crude side but bursting with the raw force of creation. [9]

David Murray: Intergoogieology (1978, Black Saint): The tenor sax great's first album on the Italian label that first established him as a star (and, more than any other label, rescued the American avant-garde by providing an outlet for their work). Quartet with Morris, Dyani, and Oliver Johnson (drums), plus Marta Contreras vocals on two (of four) tracks. "Blues for David" is the only cut that really catches fire. [7]

David Murray: The London Concert (1978 [1999], Cadillac, 2CD): Quintet in August, Morris again, plus locals on piano-bass-drums. Album appeared as 2-LP in 1979, reissue adding two long songs (46:27). [8]

David Murray Trio: Sweet Lovely (1979, Black Saint -80) Murray finally found a steady outlet in Italy on Giovanni Bonandrini's label. His second album there was this bare bones trio, with Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall setting up obstacle courses for Murray's fierce saxophone runs. The title comes from a Murray song that didn't make the cut -- fittingly, as there's nothing sweet or lovely this time. [9]

David Murray Octet: Ming (1980, Black Saint) A startling album when it appeared, recalling Mingus both in its complex layering and its sheer energy, but pushing further as it gave vent to some of the most singular musicians of the '80s -- most notably Henry Treadgill, George Lewis, and Murray himself. Cornettist Butch Morris went on to make a cottage industry out of conducted improvisations -- conductions, he called them. This is where he learned his craft. [10]

David Murray: Home (1981, Black Saint) [+]

David Murray: Murray's Steps (1982, Black Saint) Further adventures with the Octet, a group that returns for Octet Plays Trane (1999, Justin Time). [+]

David Murray Quartet: Morning Song (1983, Black Saint -84) The title track recurs frequently in his oeuvre, but never again so joyously as in leading off this ebullient album. Other delights include a meditation on "Body and Soul," a bass clarinet romp through Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," and a brief but intense "Duet" with drummer Ed Blackwell. Neither avant nor diluted -- one of his most accessible albums. [9]

David Murray: Children (1984, Black Saint -86) Three Murray tunes plus "All the Things You Are" done by a quintet with James "Blood" Ulmer's guitar and Don Pullen's piano locked in a furious race; thrilling when they keep it up, loses something when the pace slackens. [7]

David Murray Big Band: Live at Sweet Basil, Volume 1 (1984, Black Saint -85) [5]

David Murray Big Band: Live at Sweet Basil, Volume 2 (1984, Black Saint) These Butch Morris records always seem to slip by me, but now I realize that a big part of the reason is that they're so underrecorded: it takes some volume to get any detail at all. But here, at least when you can hear it, Murray is his usual brilliant self, and Craig Harris stands out among the background. I've always preferred Murray's quartets to his octet, and his octet to the big band; I may even prefer Murray's duos to his quartets. Good as this one is, there's another thirty, maybe forty, Murray albums I'd put on first. [5]

David Murray: New Life (1985, Black Saint -87) [5]

David Murray: I Want to Talk About You (1986, Black Saint -89) A live trio that ties this period together. [9]

David Murray: Recording NYC 1986 (1986, DIW -95) Another snapshot from a memorable year -- started with I Want to Talk About You and ended with The Hill; a quartet, of course, but with guitarist James Blood Ulmer on guitar instead of the usual piano, Fred Hopkins on bass and Sunny Murray on drums; sound is a little muffled, but the tenor sax has no problem breaking through. [7]

David Murray/Jack DeJohnette: In Our Style (1986, DIW -89) Mostly tenor sax-drums duets, the drummer marvelously supportive (as ever), the saxophonist psyched up; two cuts add Fred Hopkins on bass, never a bad idea; DeJohnette plays a bit of credible piano, and kicks off the final cut with some exotic percussion -- I thought vibes at first, but given the title is "Kalimba" it's most likely African thumb piano. [9]

David Murray Trio: The Hill (1986, Black Saint) Richard Davis and Joe Chambers are more orthodox than Murray's usual trio-mates -- they complement rather than compete, which lets Murray relax and expand. He reveals new subtleties in his tricky title cut, works out a Butch Morris puzzle, takes Ellington's Coltrane, and ends leisurely on Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge." But this isn't standard fare. Davis plays quite a bit of bass fiddle, especially on the bass clarinet feature, and Chambers closes on vibes. [9]

David Murray: Hope Scope (1987, Black Saint -91) [5]

David Murray/Randy Weston: The Healers (1987, Black Saint) [5]

David Murray: Deep River (1988, DIW -89) Murray was already famously prolific, but never more so than during the January 1988 quartet sessions he recorded in New York for Japan's DIW label. They split up the surplus into self-evident album titles: Ballads, Spirituals, Lovers, Tenors. The first released has a bit of each and two Africa-themed originals that head elsewhere. They're so consistent they should be wrapped up into a magnificent box set. With Dave Burrell, who repays every second of solo time, Fred Hopkins, and Ralph Peterson Jr. [10]

David Murray: Lovers (1988, DIW -89) Cut at the same January 1988 studio session that also produced Deep River, Ballads, and Spirituals, same quartet; mostly ballads, "In a Sentimental Mood" the only standard, its solo coda Murray at his most tender; on "Ming" pianist Dave Burrell rises to match Murray's emotional bravura. [9]

David Murray: Ballads (1988, DIW -90) [10]

David Murray: Spirituals (1988, DIW -90) [9]

David Murray: Ming's Samba (1988, Portrait -89) [+]

David Murray/Dave Burrell/Wilbur Morris/Victor Lewis: Lucky Four (1988, Tutu) [+]

David Murray: Tenors (1988, DIW) [9]

David Murray: Special Quartet (1990, DIW -91) With McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, not to mention Fred Hopkins. [9]

David Murray Quintet: Remembrances (1990, DIW -91) Cover suggests this is child's play, and indeed this is exceptionally light and lively, with Hugh Ragin's trumpet dicing with Murray's tenor sax, and pianist Dave Burrell mixing some boogie into the rhythm section; less explicit about its place in the tradition than Tenors or Sax Men, except on "Dexter's Dues." [8]

David Murray/George Arvanitas: Tea for Two (1990, Fresh Sound -91) This is the most conventional of Murray's piano duos: songbook fare, all ballads, ably supported, exquisite. [10]

David Murray Quartet: A Sanctuary Within (1991 [1992], Black Saint): With Tony Overwater (bass), Sunny Murray (drums), and Kahil El'Zabar (percussion, voice, thumb piano) -- names featured on the cover, each bringing a song (Sunny 2, leaving 5 for Murray). His sax runs are often brilliant, and El'Zabar can chant "song for the new South Africa" as long as he keeps the beat. [9]

David Murray: Shakill's Warrior (1991, DIW) Soul jazz formula takes organ and drums, then adds sax and/or guitar. Here we get both, but this doesn't settle for the funk guitarist Stanley Franks delivers on Andrew Cyrille's piece. That's because Don Pullen's organ goes places only his piano has gone before -- compare "At the Cafe Central" with his original. [10]

David Murray Big Band Conducted by Lawrence "Butch" Morris (1991, DIW/Columbia -92) [5]

David Murray/James Newton Quintet (1991, DIW -96) This is one of several projects which joined Murray and Newton. Newton is sort of the odds-on champ in the arena of jazz flute, although I have usually found his work rather tedious. Murray, of course, is at least as eminent in the much more competitive field of tenor sax -- and plays bass clarinet as well, which complements the flute. The Quintet lists six players, including two drummers who presumably played on separate days, but the cuts aren't listed by date or personnel. There are some outstanding saxophone runs here, as well as excellent John Hicks piano and Fred Hopkins bass. So the only real question mark is Newton. I like Newton best when he complements, as on the little hoot that ends one tune. I like Murray best when he plays, and his solo on "Doni's Song," with Hopkins backing, is one of his best ballad turns. After which, Newton chimes in with some flute that is eerily beautiful. [+]

David Murray: Black and Black (1991, Red Baron) [+]

David Murray: Fast Life (1991, DIW -93) [9]

David Murray/Milford Graves: Real Deal (1991, DIW -92) Graves is an innovative drummer with roots in the '60s avant-garde. He sets the pace and Murray freewheels, at times so caught up in the rhythm that he just clicks and pops. [9]

David Murray: Death of a Sideman (1991, DIW -00) Featuring trumpeter Bobby Bradford, who preceded Don Cherry in Ornette Coleman's quartet and had a long collaboration with John Carter up to his death in 1991; Bradford wrote the songs in Carter's memory, and Murray picks up the thought; with Coleman alum Ed Blackwell on drums, Murray regulars Dave Burrell and Fred Hopkins on piano and bass; poignant, profound. [9]

David Murray: Ballads for Bass Clarinet (1991, DIW -93) Murray adopted the bass clarinet as a second horn in 1979 with the World Saxophone Quartet, used it on Ming in 1980, and brought it to the fore in 1981's Clarinet Summit. Since then he's used it for a song or two on most of his albums, but this is his only showcase. He gets much more out of the instrument than its characteristic hollow tone, including a clean high register he can soar in and honk against. [9]

David Murray/Pierre Dørge: The Jazzpar Prize (1991, Enja -93) [+]

David Murray Big Band: South of the Border (1992, DIW -95) Murray's previous big band efforts, starting in 1984 with Live at Sweet Basil, merely diluted him. But looking south for beat and vibe, conductor Butch Morris weaves the extra horns into seamless flow. Not that they look very far: the table setter is a Sonny Rollins calypso. [9]

David Murray Octet: Picasso (1992, DIW -95) The title comes from a Coleman Hawkins piece, but where Hawk recorded the first landmark tenor sax solo album, Murray wraps a seven-slice suite around the idea and fleshes it out with five horns and some dazzling Dave Burrell piano; not as jarring or protean as earlier octets like Ming, the sense of motion and flow is flush throughout. [7]

David Murray: MX (1992, Red Baron -93) [5]

David Murray: Body and Soul (1993, Black Saint) Another twist on the Hawkins classic. [+]

David Murray: Saxmen (1993, Red Baron) [+]

David Murray: For Aunt Louise (1993, DIW -95) [9]

David Murray/Dave Burrell: Windward Passages (1993, Black Saint -97) [9]

David Murray: Jazzosaurus Rex (1993, Red Baron) The four 1992-93 albums recorded for Bob Thiele's Sony-distributed label are the closest Murray ever got to a major US label, but the net effect is that they're relatively easy to find as cutouts. Cut the same day as Saxmen his quickie survey of the alumni, this one's good for cosmic relief -- especially the memoir of Miles Davis with Murray noodling behind the rap. [10]

David Murray Quartet: Skahill's II (1993, DIW -94) A follow-up to Shakill's Warior, a 1991 album which also featured Don Pullen on organ, providing an edgy soul jazz groove for Murray's powerful improvisations. [9]

David Murray Quartet: Love and Sorrow (1993, DIW -00) Another ballad album, framed with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "You Don't Know What Love Is"; the sole original "Sorrow Song (for W.E.B. DuBois)" leading into "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" for what may be his most quiet storm side ever; an especially touching John Hicks on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, Idris Muhammad on drums. [9]

David Murray Quintet With Ray Anderson and Anthony Davis (1994, DIW -96) [9]

David Murray: Jug-a-Lug (1994, DIW) Two upbeat sets with organ and electric guitars, one with "Sex Machine." [+]

David Murray: The Tip (1994, DIW) Two upbeat sets with organ and electric guitars, one with "Sex Machine." [+]

David Murray Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard (1995, 411 Records -03) This has a fly-on-the-wall quality, catching just one instant of the great saxophonist doing what he does better than almost anyone else; one wonders just why this particular instant -- good players with no special magic -- was chosen over so many others. [+]

David Murray: Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead (1996, Astor Place) [5]

David Murray: The Long Goodbye: A Tribute to Don Pullen (1996, DIW) Four songs by the late, great pianist; two by protégé D.D. Jackson, who occupies the hot seat; the title cut a dirge by Butch Morris. Despite some rousing passages, this has a becalming, elegiac feel, a fitting companion to Pullen's own Ode to Life. [10]

David Murray: Fo Deuk Revue (1996, Justin Time -97) [+]

David Murray: Creole (1997, Justin Time) In moving to France, Murray left the US and moved out into the world. Fo Deuk Revue introduced him to Senegal's griots and rappers. Here he goes to Gaudeloupe, encountering the ka drums, flutes and vocals at the other end of the middle passage. Two remarkable reunions followed -- Yonn-Dé (2002) and the Pharoah Sanders-fortified Gwotet (2004) -- but this is one jazz-world fusion that comes together whole. [10]

David Murray: Seasons (1998, Pow Wow -99) [+]

David Murray/Fontella Bass: Speaking in Tongues (1999, Justin Time) [5]

David Murray: Octet Plays Trane (2000, Justin Time) [9]

David Murray Power Quartet: Like a Kiss That Never Ends (2000, Justin Time -01) More like his Classic Quartet, with longtime mates John Hicks, Ray Drummond and Andrew Cyrille on board. Classic album too, full of power but with none of the rough edges of his early quartets. [10]

David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters: Yonn-De (2002, Justin Time) Back to Martinique, sans flutes. The rush here is the percussion and chants, which are harder to track than Creole's exuberance, and there's also a shortage of Murray. Yet when Murray does play, he electrifies the joint. And the percussion and chants finally hold up. [9]

David Murray Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard (1995, 411 Records -03) This has a fly-on-the-wall quality, catching just one instant of the great saxophonist doing what he does better than almost anyone else; one wonders just why this particular instant -- good players with no special magic -- was chosen over so many others. [+]

David Murray Latin Big Band: Now Is Another Time (2001-02, Justin Time -03) Another bridge, a huge band with muy Latinos and no Butch Morris. Still, Murray stands out -- like Dizzy Gillespie, no band is big enough to contain him. [9]

David Murray: Circles: Live in Cracow (2003, Not Two) Sax trio, featuring local bass and drums duo, telepathic twins Marcin Oles and Bartlomiej Brat Oles, although they seem to be overwhelmed by their guest; Murray holds the spotlight, showing off his extensive bag of improvisatory tricks, especially on bass clarinet. [8]

David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters: Gwotet (2004, Justin Time) As with Murray's two previous Guadeloupe albums, a foray into pan-African cosmopolitanism is built around the gwo-ka drums and chant vocals of Klod Kiavué and François Ladrezeau. But the rest of the cast is new, including Guadaloupean guitarist Christian Laviso and Vietnamese/Senegalese hybrid Hervé Samb, extra brass from Murray's Latin Big Band, and featured saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Where Creole settled for lush exoticism, and Yonn-Dé strove for modest authenticity, this one is a nonstop riot of rhythm and horns. [10]

David Murray 4tet & Strings: Waltz Again (2002, Justin Time -05) Back in 1998 I decided that Murray's Creole was the record of the year. When I praised the record to Christgau, he tersely wrote back that he hates flutes and the record is covered with them. I'm not a flute fan myself, but I was so caught up in the Guadeloupean drums and the master's sax I had hardly noticed. Murray is so monumental he can overpower your prejudices, and he's done so many times -- despite initial reservations I eventually applauded his Latin Big Band and items like Octet Plays Trane. But the strings here are just too much for me. They are as modern and intrusive as those on Stan Getz' Focus, but denser and indecisive -- little swirling maelstroms, they take over the work to such an extent that even Murray has trouble saying his piece. When he does get a word in edgewise, he's magnificent, of course. But there are plenty of other places to hear him to clearer effect. Guess this has to go on the Duds list. [4]

David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground (2006, Justin Time -07) Begins and ends with two Ishmael Reed lyrics sung by Cassandra Wilson: the title cut, tied to Murray's soundtrack for the Marco Williams film Banished, recalls atrocities between 1890 and 1930 when rioting white mobs drove thousands of black Americans from their homes, clearing out whole neighborhoods, while the closer conjures up an ancient Cassandra as "The Prophet of Doom." In between, Murray waxes poetic -- lamenting the past, redeeming the present, offering hope for the future. [10]

David Murray/Mal Waldron: Silence (2001, Justin Time -08) Cut in Brussels a year before Waldron's death, this may now be seen as a remembrance of an all-time piano great, but Murray fills the room so prodigiously that you have to work to hear how skillfully Waldron ties it all together. [9]

David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Live in Berlin (2007, Jazzwerkstatt -08) The piano and bass slots aren't much, but muscular bass clarinet and monster sax prevail. [8]

David Murray and the Gwo Ka Masters: The Devil Tried to Kill Me (2007, Justin Time -09) Murray's connection to Guadeloupe has produced a remarkable series of albums: 1998's Creole, 2002's Yonn-Dé, and 2004's Gwotet. I figured one more would automatically be a year-end contender, so rushed this advance CDR into the player. Two plays later it's certainly not a contender. The saxophonist is brilliant, natch, and the gwo ka drummers power an awesome beat. Can't complain about the guitarists, or Rasul Biddik's occasional trumpet. But the vocals barely connect, especially on Taj Mahal's solo feature, the generic "Africa" with the overly didactic Ishmal Reed lyric. Sista Kee holds up a bit better, with or without Taj. My copy includes two "radio edits" -- shorter versions of the two Taj Mahal songs. I don't mind recapping a hit, but a miss is something else. [6]

David Murray Cuban Ensemble: Plays Nat King Cole en Español (2010, Motéma -11) More inspired by than based on Cole's 1958-62 Spanish-language records, En Español and More En Español. Cole took backing tracks from a small Cuban group and dubbed in his sweet vocals -- one story is that the 1958 revolution prevented him from finishing the album in Havana. Murray is at least equally circuitous, recording his Cuban band in Buenos Aires with tango singer Daniel Melingo -- as rough as Cole is smooth -- then dubbing in strings in Portugal, mixing the album in France, and mastering it in the UK. Even with Melingo on board, the vocals are trimmed way back, leaving more room for the sax, as imposing as ever. [9]

David Murray Infinity Quartet: Be My Monster Love (2012, Motéma -13) Paul Krugman likes to refer to Joseph Stiglitz as "an insanely great economist"; Murray, for much the same reason, is an insanely great tenor saxophonist: his solos here are monumental, taking off in flights of fancy that no one else can think of much less do. Unfortunately, he decided to do songs here, or more precisely, of texts improvised into something song-like. Three of the texts come from Ishmael Reed, whose own deadpan authority made them work on Conjure. Here, Macy Gray sings the title piece in her own idiosyncratic mien, and Gregory Porter tries to croon the others, plus a bit by Abiodun Oyewode on the importance of children. The texts mean well, but the hymn about "making a joyful noise" is doubly ironic: if only Porter would shut up and let the sax man wail. [8]

Murray, Allen & Carrington Power Trio: Perfection (2015, Motéma -16) That's David Murray (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Geri Allen (piano), and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums) -- "Power Trio" would have been redundant had they just spelled out those names. I missed this, and passed up Murray on my latest DownBeat ballot because I hadn't heard anything by him since 2013. My bad. [9]

David Murray Feat. Saul Williams: Blues for Memo (2016, Motéma -18) Williams is more poet than singer, but has a half-dozen albums, notably Martyr Loser King (2016). He read a poem at Amiri Baraka's funeral, and Ahmet Ulug got the idea of arranging a meet up with Murray in Turkey, where this album was originally released. The saxophonist is typically magnificent here, the singer/rapper harder to hear and suss out, but offhand doesn't seem like a good match (unlike, say, Murray's work with Ishmael Reed). [7]

World Saxophone Quartet

With 20 albums to date, Murray's longest-running side-project is the World Saxophone Quartet, formed in 1977 with Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Hamiett Bluiett. Hemphill was the main arranger until illness sidelined him in 1990. His records, with four saxes and nothing else, follow a purism I've never enjoyed and often found tedious. The later records are more eclectic, often with extra musicians as well as whoever they could find for Hemphill's slot.

World Saxophone Quartet: Point of No Return (1977, Moers) Early on, a live performance from Festival Moers. One's tempted to ask whether it's so early they haven't learned to play yet, but most certainly they were just being nasty, as they were wont to do. And the nastiness is actually the most becoming thing about them. [5]

World Saxophone Quartet: Steppin' With the World Saxophone Quartet (1978, Black Saint -79) If this was their only album I'd use the names on the cover as the artist credit: Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax/flute), Julius Hemphill (alto/soprano sax), Oliver Lake (alto/soprano sax), David Murray (tenor sax/bass clarinet). But they recorded 20+ albums, starting with a 1977 debut on Moers, then five albums on Black Saint, a major label move to Nonesuch, then from 1996 on Justin Time (like Murray). Hemphill dominates, writing 4 tracks vs. 1 each for Lake and Murray, but the whole approach to harmony was his -- something he pursued on his other records, but kept especially pure here. I've always found their limited monophonic range unpleasant, but this is more dynamic than most. [5]

World Saxophone Quartet: W.S.Q. (1980, Black Saint -81) Hamiet Bluiett steps up here, with two short pieces (or five, as his "Suite Music" is broken into five parts), vs. 3-2-1 for Hemphill, Lake, and Murray. [6]

World Saxophone Quartet: Revue (1980, Black Saint -82) Hemphill wrote four pieces, the whole first side. The others split the second, with Murray offering "Ming" and "David's Tune," and Lake and Bluiett offering hymns. Hemphill's side is the more cohesive, which doesn't necessarily make it better. [6]

World Saxophone Quartet: Live in Zürich (1981, Black Saint -84) Bluiett riff pieces open and close, brief at 1:40 and 1:30. In between it's all Hemphill, six substantial pieces, played slow and soft enough to focus on complex harmony rather than indulging in the thrash that gladiators are prone to. [6]

World Saxophone Quartet: Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music (1985, Black Saint -86) More of a group effort, with Murray's "Great Peace" longest at 14:58, but Hemphill gets the last word. [5]

World Saxophone Quartet: Plays Duke Ellington (1986, Elektra) [3]

World Saxophone Quartet: Dances and Ballads (1987, Elektra) [+]

World Saxophone Quartet: Rhythm and Blues (1989, Elektra) [4]

World Saxophone Quartet: Metamorphosis (1990, Elektra/Nonesuch -91) [+]

World Saxophone Quartet/Fontella Bass: Breath of Life (1992, Elektra/Nonesuch -94) [+]

World Saxophone Quartet: Moving Right Along (1993, Soul Note -94) Eric Person takes over for the departed Julius Hemphill, the mastermind for better and worse of this group. Plus James Spaulding shows up for two tracks. I've always had problems with this group -- both the tone and their tendency to scratch -- but this one redeems itself less than most. [4]

World Saxophone Quartet: Four Now (1995, Justin Time -96) Julius Hemphill became ill, stopped playing, left the group in 1990 (between Rhythm & Blues and Metamorphosis), and died in 1995 (age 57). (He continued composing. His 1993 Five Chord Stud, played by six other saxophonists, perhaps the best of his sax choir records, and a sextet in his name recorded a good Live in Lisbon in 2003. He had a profound influence on many saxophonists, notably Tim Berne and Allen Lowe.) The other three sax giants kept WSQ going through 2006, running through a series of alto replacements (Arthur Blythe was the first, but it's John Purcell here) and adding other musicians as opportunity arose. The cover notes: "With African Drums" (Chief Bey, Mor Thiam, and Mar Gueye). They make a difference, inspiring a vocal on the Thiam's closer, "Sangara." [7]

World Saxophone Quartet: Takin' It 2 the Next Level (1996, Justin Time) The four saxophonists (Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake, David Murray, and John Purcell) get a full rhythm section for backup this time: Donald Blackman (keyboards), Calvin X Jones (bass), and Ronnie Burrage (drums). All but Jones contribute pieces, and they're all over the place. [5]

World Saxophone Quartet: Selim Sevad: A Tribute to Miles Davis (1998, Justin Time) [9]

World Saxophone Quartet: M'Bizo (1997-98, Justin Time -99) [+]

World Saxophone Quartet: Requiem for Julius (1999, Justin Time -00) [4]

World Saxophone Quartet: Steppenwolf (1999, Justin Time -02) Bluiett is one of my favorite saxmen, and Murray, well, he's my main man. Dunno about Purcell, but Lake's pretty good, too. So I keep going back to the well (10 albums so far), but the fact is that I've always found WSQ's sound way too monotonic -- what a difference some African drums make -- and I've also found them prone to slip into incomprehensible cacophony (especially when Julius Hemphill was present, in person or in memory). Twenty-some years down the road, this live set seems about par for the course: brilliant musicians, startling runs, astonishing tones, and more than a dollop of incomprehensible cacophony. [4]

World Saxophone Quartet: 25th Anniversary: The New Chapter (2000, Justin Time -01) After a decade of trying new things, back to the well -- just four saxophonists harmonizing, no bells or whistles (or African drums). Before this came their look back, Requiem for Julius, their tribute to founder and visionary Hemphill. Here they look forward, dressed on the cover in white tuxes, John Purcell way out front, pictured with saxello but credited with alto. Once again, I get it, but don't especially enjoy it. [5]

World Saxophone Quartet: Experience (2004, Justin Time) If Hendrix's songs were just scaffolds for great guitar, why not great sax? The group has been fleshed out here with drums (Gene Lake), bass guitar (Matthew Garrison), violin (Billy Bang) and trombone (Craig Harris, also credited with didgeridoo and spoken word, which mostly amounts to "foxy lady"). That gives them what they've always needed, with is a bottom, a beat, and some sonic differentiation. (Otherwise, the saxes, even given the richness of the interplay, often seem much too much the same color.) Not a complete success, in part because it too complicated for Hendrix's songs, which worked just fine in the simplest of trios. [+]

World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006, Justin Time) The political situation has gotten so dire that the old masters feel compelled to write tirades. David Murray and Oliver Lake go so far as to step up to the mike, while Hamiet Bluiett recruits gospel heavyweight Carolyn Amba Hawthorne to excoriate the nation's "Amazin' Disgrace." In the first recorded understatement of his career, Murray complains that "the Republican Party is not very nice." But like most Americans, they'd still rather party than protest, so they bring their friends in. In the spirit of anger, Craig Harris weighs in on the "Bluocracy" -- Lincoln Center's, presumably, they've been on the front lines of that political struggle all their careers. All Blood Ulmer has to offers is "Mannish Boy," but why not? They've always struck me as uptight without bass and drums, but with a backbeat and their blood up they're the champs. [10]

World Saxophone Quartet: Yes We Can (2009, Jazzwerkstatt -11) Murray and Bluiett celebrate Obama, with Kidd Jordan for Lake's grit, and James Carter for Hemphill's soul. [7]

Some side credits:

Bobby Battle Quartet With David Murray: The Offering (1990, Mapleshade) The "with" clause is the one that matters. Battle is a drummer who has catalogued nothing else under his name, no doubt because he also wrote nothing here. Six long, relaxed performances, the two classics (Waller and Monk) being the ones you most notice, but solid work all around. [+]

Big Band Charlie Mingus: Live at the Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt Volume 1 (1988, Soul Note) [+]

Big Band Charlie Mingus: Live at the Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt Volume 2 (1988, Soul Note) [9]

Jeri Brown/Leon Thomas: Zaius (1998, Justin Time) [5]

Dave Burrell/David Murray: In Concert (1991, Victo) [9]

James Carter: Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge (2001, Warner Bros. -04) Overstuffed with four generations of Detroit saxophonists -- Johnny Griffin goes virtually unnoticed for the first time ever, Franz Jackson sings to be heard, and David Murray has to play like David Murray -- this isn't a great album, but it's voluble and exciting the way Carter can be. If he recorded for boutique labels, they'd be on his case for three or four records like this per year, and he'd deliver. But with the majors this sits on the shelf until he moves on and they decide to flush it. [9]

Andrew Cyrille Quintet: Ode to the Living Tree (1994, Venus -95) Recorded in Senegal with an all-star group: David Murray (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Oliver Lake (alto sax), Adegoke Steve Colson (electric piano), Fred Hopkins (bass). Two Cyrille pieces, one each by Murray and Colson, plus a 19:12 slice from "A Love Supreme." Loud, raucous even, still feels cluttered and slipshod. [4]

Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (1979, ECM -80) Quartet with Peter Warren (bass, cello) and two saxophonists: David Murray (tenor, bass clarinet) and Arthur Blythe (alto). That's a lot of firepower, but for some reason it's deployed rather erratically. [7]

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Album Album (1984, ECM) Horn-heavy quintet, with John Purcell (alto/soprano sax), David Murray (tenor sax), Howard Johnson (tuba/baritone sax), and Rufus Reid (acoustic/electric bass). On the downside I find that I don't like the sax section playing at all -- Purcell's smaller saxes sound tinny, and Johnson's bottom washes out, but Murray's solos are pretty impressive. There's just not enough of them to put the album album over. [5]

Barbara Dennerlein: Junkanoo (1997, Verve) [+]

Kahil El'Zabar With David Murray: One World Family (2000, CIMP) The duo's record on Delmark is easier to grasp, probably because the sound is much more upfront. CIMP likes to give the listener as much dynamic range as possible, which means that the quieter parts tend to drop out -- at least unless you have a billion dollar stereo system and the patience to use it. The title cut is a prime example of this, with a big hole all the way to the end. There's some prime Murray here, but there's lots of prime Murray all over the place. [+]

Kahil El'Zabar Trio: Love Outside of Dreams (1997, Delmark -02) While El'Zabar is always interesting, the real attraction here is David Murray, who blows his ass off. Makes up for underplaying on Yonn-Dé. [9]

Kahil El'Zabar & David Murray: We Is: Live at the Bop Shop (2000, Delmark -04) El'Zabar is an important conceptualizer of pan-Africanist world jazz, but he can get to be annoying. He takes two long drum solos here, lots of banging and thrashing, but they never quite come through with whatever it is that drum solos are supposed to deliver. Worse are his chants, grunts, and vocalizations, which only make sense on "One World Family." On the other hand, Murray transcends all that. Give him space to blow and he generates wonders. His tenor sax intros to "Groove Allure" and "Blues Affirmation" are clear, concise, and breathtaking. His plays bass clarinet on "One World Family" and he's simply the all-time master of the instrument. Murray's recorded a number of duos, and the one thing they all have in common is a lot of great Murray. This is his third record with El'Zabar. One World Family (CIMP) came from the same year, covers much the same ground, and has pluses and minuses to this one: the sound here is better, much warmer, at least for Murray -- El'Zabar's vocals are clearer on the CIMP; this one has live crowd noise and a lot more drum solo. I rate the CIMP a tad higher, but they're very close. Better than either is the trio with bassist Fred Hopkins, recorded in 1997 but unreleased until 2002, Love Outside of Dreams. [+]

Kahil El'Zabar Ft. David Murray: Kahil El'Zabar's Spirit Groove (2019 [2020], Spiritmuse) Chicago percussionist, leads a quartet with Murray on tenor sax, Justin Dillard on keyboards, and Emma Dayhuff on bass. The leaders have history, but it's been a while since their 1997-2000 albums. Both have slowed down, gotten sentimental, which is why I forgive El'Zabar's singing, and treasure what's left of the saxophonist's chops -- not awesome, but still inspiring. [9]

Donal Fox/David Murray: Ugly Beauty (1993, Evidence) [5]

Henry Grimes Trio: Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival (2004, Ayler -05) The sound doesn't favor the return of Ayler's long-lost bassist, but David Murray and Hamid Drake do. [8]

Andy Hamilton: Silvershine (1991, World Circuit) [+]

[Kip Hanrahan] Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed (1983, American Clavé -85) [9]

[Kip Hanrahan] Conjure: Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon (1987-88, American Clavé) [5]

Kip Hanrahan: Vertical's Currency (1984, American Clavé) [5]

[Kip Hanrahan] Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005, American Clavé 2CD -06) Long after two '80s albums, another helping of Ishmael Reed texts, read by the man over Kip Hanrahan's music. The first was called Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed, the title becoming a virtual group of sorts. I dig the concept, admire the man, only wish the music was a bit better -- especially from what looks on paper to be a Latin percussion dream team. Only David Murray truly rises to the occasion. [7]

John Hicks/David Murray: Sketches of Tokyo (1985, DIW -86) The first of many duos with pianists, this one stands out because Hicks keeps pushing his ideas even when Murray is flying. Starts with Hicks solo on Monk, then Murray joins in -- overpowering at first, but the pianist hangs tough. Piano duo albums are a Murray staple, but his regular pianists have the edge [9]

William Hooker: Light: The Early Years 1975-1989 (1975-89, NoBusiness -4CD -16) A trawl through the avant drummer's early oeuvre. First disc starts with him solo, a failed soul singer backed only by his own percussion. Then comes two monster pieces with saxophonists: a 26:48 trio with David Murray (1975), and a 19:27 duo with a young and even more visceral David S. Ware. Second disc is more obscure, ending with a 16:07 trio with two saxophonists (Jameel Moondoc and Hasaan Dawkins). Third jumps ahead to 1988, a previously unreleased trio with Roy Campbell on trumpet and Booker T. Williams on tenor sax. Fourth gives you a set with Lewis Barnes (trumpet) and Richard Keene (reeds) and a 16:18 drum solo. All avant, very underground, and while the horns make a lot of noise, there's very little filler -- I think just one cut with bass, no piano or guitar -- so the drums always ring clear. [9]

D.D. Jackson/David Murray: Peace-Song (1994, Justin Time -95) [9]

D.D. Jackson: Paired Down, Vol. 1 (1996, Justin Time -97) [+]

D.D. Jackson: Paired Down, Vol. 2 (1996, Justin Time -97) [+]

Michael Gregory Jackson: Clarity (1976, ESP-Disk -10) Guitarist, first album at 23, also credited with vocals, mandolin, flute, timpani, marimba, percussion, but what caught my attention was the three young horn players: Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, and David Murray. Still, those horns are generally wasted, although Lake has some moments, and gets into the label's ad hoc aesthetic with flute and percussion. [5]

Jon Jang Sextet: Two Flowers on a Stem (1995, Soul Note) Jang's melodies are rooted in Chinese music, but the real oriental feel comes from Chen Jiebing's erhu -- a string instrument likened to a cello. The only other oriental instrument is the gong that bassist Santi Debriano uses. The rest of the group: Billy Hart (drums), James Newton (flute), David Murray (tenor sax, bass clarinet). The early sections here tend to favor newton, his flute providing an arch airiness. On rarely does the music here lapse into the stateliness I associate with Chinese music -- the bottom line is that Jang swings too much for that. The latter half is increasingly turned over to Murray, who rips off an astonishing solo on "Variation on a Sorrow Song of Mengjiang Nu." [+]

Jon Jang/David Murray: River of Life (1998-2001, Asian Improv -02) A mixed bag. Murray is frequently outstanding in duo frameworks, so the surprise here is that he seems to be the source of the trouble. He feels awkward on several of these pieces, probably because they don't have a lot of melodic flow. Nor is this problem all Jang's fault: Murray takes another shot at his "Requiem for Julius," which is as difficult as anything Julius ever wrote. Also the bass clarinet doesn't seem to fit a couple of pieces. On the other hand, when he's hot he's hot. This starts strong, and ends stronger. The other high point is Jang's arrangement of a Chinese piece. Jang actually is interesting throughout. Like I said, a mixed bag. [+]

Ranee Lee: Seasons of Love (1997, Justin Time) Jazz singer, born in Brooklyn but based in Montreal since 1970, recording a dozen albums 1980-2009. Tenor saxophonist David Murray gets a "with special guest" credit on the cover, but only plays on 4 (of 12) songs. Otherwise backed by piano, guitar, bass, and drums, all very deliberate. [6]

Allen Lowe: Louis Armstrong: An Avant Garde Portrait (1992, Constant Sorrow -16) Recorded live at Knitting Factory, originally released as Mental Strain at Dawn: A Modern Portrait of Louis Armstrong (1993, Stash), the band included Doc Cheatham and Robert Rumboltz on trumpet, Paul Austerlitz (clarinet, bass clarinet), David Murray (bass clarinet, tenor sax), Lowe (alto/tenor sax), Loren Schoenberg (tenor sax), John Rapson (trombone), and Ray Kaczynski (drums). Some old, some new, Lowe is clever enough he rarely tips his hand. [8]

Abdoulaye N'Diaye: Taouè (2001, Justin Time -03) [9]

Ralph Peterson: Presents the Fo'Tet (1989, Blue Note) [5]

The Roots: Illadelph Halflife (1996, DGC) [B+]

Hal Singer: Challenge (2010, Marge) Ninety years old, seems likely to be his last album, recorded in Paris, but his pick up band for once is American, young, and pretty famous: Lafayette Gilchrist (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass), Hamid Drake (drums), plus Rasul Siddik (trumpet) on two tracks, and David Murray (tenor sax) everywhere. The latter more than earns his "featuring" credit, but the two-sax work early on is pretty thrilling. [9]

Jamaaladeen Tacuma: Renaissance Man (1983, Gramavision -84) [5]

Aki Takase/David Murray: Blue Monk (1991, Enja) [9]

Aki Takase/David Murray: Cherry Shakura (2016, Intakt -17) Piano/sax duets, Murray also playing bass clarinet. The pair recorded a previous album in 1991, Blue Monk, long a personal favorite, and they add another Monk piece here, along with seven originals (Takase 4, Murray 3) which makes this a bit harder to fall for, but the pianist is superb, and Murray is as awesome as ever. [9]

McCoy Tyner: 44th Street Suite (1991, Red Baron) [+]

James Blood Ulmer: Are You Glad to Be in America? (1980, Rough Trade) [+]

James Blood Ulmer: Free Lancing (1982, Columbia) David Murray on 3 tracks. [5]

Paul Zauner's Blue Brass feat. David Murray: Roots n' Wings (2019, PAO/Blujazz) Austrian trombonist, handful of albums with variants of this group, an octet here including his guest star. Zauner played some with Murray in the late 1980s. Good to hear him here, but two other saxes and trumpet vie for attention. [8]

Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions Complete (1976, Knitting Factory, 3CD) Collects five LPs, originally Douglas 7045-7049; Murray appears on three tracks.

Other Albums

This is very partial.

  • David Murray: Live at the Peace Church (1976, Danola) -
  • James Newton/David Murray: Solomon's Sons (1977, Circle RK 16177/5)
  • David Murray: Flowers for Albert (1977 [1990], West Wind) -
  • David Murray: Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club Volume 1 (1977 [1978], India Navigation)
  • David Murray: Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club Volume 2 (1977 [1979], India Navigation)
  • David Murray: Sur-real Saxophone (1978, Horo HZ 09) - solo
  • David Murray: Organic Saxophone (1978, Palm 31) - solo
  • David Murray: Conceptual Saxophone (1978, Cadillac SGC 1007) - solo
  • Curtis Clark With David Murray: New York City Wildlife (1979 [1980], Anima Productions) - mostly solo piano, plus Murray on 2 tracks
  • David Murray: Solo Live Vol. I (1980, Cecma) - solo
  • David Murray: Solo Live Vol. II (1980, Cecma) - solo
  • David Murray: Solo Live (1980 [1997], Cecma) - originally 2 LPs: Vol. 1 and Vol. II -
  • Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) With David Murray and Steve McCall: New Music, New Poetry (1982, India Navigation IN 1048)
  • Wilber Morris/Dennis Charles/David Murray: Wilber Force (1983 [1984], DIW) - CD ([1988], DIW), ([2004], DIW)
  • Dave Burrell/David Murray: Daybreak (1989, Gazell) -
  • Dave Burrell/David Murray: Brother to Brother (1993, Gazell) -