David Murray: I want to Talk About You (1986) Black Saint

DavidMurrayQtet-cover-1940-LJC

Selection: Heart to Heart

Artists

David Murray (ts), John Hicks (p), Ray Drummond (b), Ralph Peterson Junior (d)  recorded March 1, 1986 at Charlie’s Tap, Boston.

Music:

Once again flirting with the free-tendency, but nowhere near as “free” as I feared expected. Browsing through a local record store, the name David Murray was one I recalled from an artist recommendation on one of the posts here at LJC (was that you, Andy?  I read the posts), and Black Saint was a label I came across while expanding the Guide to Record Labels, the twin to Soulnote. A quick spin on the record store turntable confirmed – yes, this is interesting, and I like it, despite its recent 1986 provenance:

Wiki:  Murray was initially influenced by free jazz musicians such as Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp. He gradually evolved a more diverse style in his playing and compositions. Murray set himself apart from most tenor players of his generation by not taking John Coltrane as his model, choosing instead to incorporate elements of mainstream players Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves into his mature style.

Murray featured in the Seventies New York “Loft Scene” and was founder of the World Saxophone Quartet – Julius Hemphill (as), Oliver Lake (as), David Murray (ts), Hamiet Bluiett (bs) – and has been recording prolifically since 1975. Despite a conscious decision to eschew Coltrane, he was awarded a Grammy for his  Blues For Coltrane tribute album. To this ear uneducated in free jazz, Murray plays very much in the vein of Archie Shepp in his more mellow moments, embellishing the expected with unexpected melodic lines, darting off in musical tangents and harmonic dissonances,  whilst not losing sight of the groove and melody in hand. Or perhaps this is an untypical Murray recording, others will be a better judge. A recent review of David Murray in Berlin  did not hit the right notes for me:

“… Joe Zawinul-influenced synth-driven world-funk… backbeat powered bass vamps, ghostly electric guitar, and a poetry recital….”

Sounds ghastly. I already have all the Weather Report albums I need (one), special effects guitar and world funk? His latest single Be My Monster Love is described as “soul infused” and features R&B singer Macy Gray.  No thanks, this is where I get off. We’ve gone way past my stop. Fast backwards, perhaps his early work is more my metier.

An excellent site dedicated to David Murray is to be found on a fellow WordPress blog  Wall of Sound, with links to many other sites dedicated to the “new jazz” of the Seventies through to the Nineties and beyond, such as inconstant sol ( a filesharer). This is not my territory, but when you put a toe in different water, sometimes you make many surprising finds, and I concede I should get to know it better, especially as its price tag is more affordable, though the digital nature of later recordings still presents something of a barrier, and I am not going to walk the Way of the Evil Silver Disk.

Cover:

Its got attitude and it’s got a bar code. Hailing from the far side of the eighties, and the other end of the artistic spectrum of Francis Wolff, a cover portrait with face obscured; liner notes in gold text reversed out of black, the cover sets out it’s membership of new music in the post-bop and avant-garde tradition. All power to the Italian Black Saint label, purveyors of more-free jazz.

Vinyl: Black Saint BSR 0105 (Italy)

Nice vinyl pressing, in keeping with its stable-mate Soulnote, and light years away from the vinyl-destroying tone arms (and their owners)  of the Fifties and Sixties. The label design is quite quirky, but very striking.

DavidMurrayQtet-labels-2000-LJC

DavidMurrayQtet-rear-1940-LJC

Collectors Corner

Source: One of London’s suburban record stores which continue to provide a useful source of vintage vinyl, mostly reissues as are found everywhere, but modestly priced and often something of interest.

More to be discovered

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20 thoughts on “David Murray: I want to Talk About You (1986) Black Saint

  1. I just discovered this post and agree with those that see Murray as one of the tenor greats. It has been suggested that his overexposure in terms of recording are related to the financial strain of a number of ex- wives. The Black Saint recordings that were recorded by Barigozzi in Italy are the best sonically and the vinyl is of high quality. My personal faves are The Hill (trio) and Flowers for Albert (octet). Listening to Lovers (DIW) right now. Ming, the lead balled on side B is fantastic. Another great Murray LP (which happens to be a “digital” recording) is Ming’s Samba, a quartet on the Portrait label
    .

  2. Saw David Murray’s Infinity Quartet (David Murray / Saxophone, Nasheet Waits / Drums, Jaribu Shahid / Bass, Rod Williams / Piano) last night at Ronnie Scott’s. Great set with avant garde music and classics. Nasheet Waits is an unbelievably gifted and sensual drummer. David Murray is probably the best saxophone player I have ever had the honour to see live. Tone, technique, stamina, tempo. His excursion on the Bass Clarinet was incredible. Only comment I would have is that he could have played more adventurous pieces throughout, but then this was Ronnie Scott’s. Playing again tonight.

  3. What is your collective take on the Black Saint pressing quality? I have passed them up in the past but am open to expanding my horizons.

    • My take, in my system, good. A combination of good recording engineers and the pressing plant. Good bass and clean top-end, plenty of presence, nice near-silent vinyl. A slightly CD-like quality if anything, though much preferable to actual CD, which is probably down to the characteristics of the playback medium. On a par with Enja, Dragon, Steeplechase and other Italian labels Soulnote and Rearward.

      The stereo mix has a decidedly modern feel, which is no bad thing. I’d say the owners of the label in Milan were also enthusiasts about the music and cared about their product quality, a bit like the original single-tier management of Blue Note. Nothing ruined records more than the “men in suits”. These guys were passionate about the music.

      Not as good as the very best vintage vinyl – not quite the brooding presence of RVG Plastylite or spaciousness of Columbia 6 eye – but better than the commercial output of the big labels in the closing years of vinyl. I’ve certainly been won over.

      • I’d agree, nice and quiet, well recorded. Compared to contemporaries better than Horo and Red ( both Italian), Concord, a hair better than Steeplechase and Storyville. Quick count reveals that I’ve 40 BS or SN issues on LP and all are very good sonically.
        Played Ming this morning and it sounded very good and has some of her excellent photos.

      • while you are exploring 80’s jazz, check out Butch Morris. Another level of improv. My Turkish avant garde friends swear by him. Homeing on sound Aspects is a trip.

      • I think one probably needs to distinguish between pressing quality and recording quality. This is 1980s vinyl, not lushly heavy vintage vinyl. Having said that, of the many Black Saints and Soul Notes in my collection none are noisy pressings or have pressing faults.

        From the perspective of recording quality, by and large they are excellent. Giacomo Pelliciotti and subsequently Giovanni Bonandrini cared very much about recording quality and Cook & Morton commend a number of titles for their engineering. Ran Blake’s THE SHORT HAPPY LIFE OF BARBARA MONK and Misha Mengelberg’s CHANGE OF SEASON: THE MUSIC OF HERBIE NICHOLS are amongst the best that I have — not just genuinely great LPs, but recorded with lavish care.

          • Steve Lacy and Misha Mengelberg together, wow. I used to live next to the old BIM Huis as a student, and saw Mengelberg and Bennink many times. Change of Season is fabulous and cheap. I bought another on Discogs. Regeneration is another great Mengelberg/Lacy. Also SoulNote.

            For LJC – this is not ‘avant-garde’ – ‘avant-garde’. Pretty traditional but very interesting post-bop. Nichols compositions feel to me as most similar to Monk, but smoother and with more swing. Unique sound. The group has stayed very close to the original Nichols sound.

  4. One last thought on Murray and the benefit of LP jackets… many of his album covers include photographs by his wife, Ming Smith, and are an excellent introduction to her photography. She passed away in 2010 and doesn’t have a lot of work posted online but its worth digging through various sites (MoMA, artnet, etc…) or galleries.

  5. A bit like Ken Vandermark, Murray suffers from overexposure with vast numbers of LPs/CDs recorded under his name. Just counting all his Black Saints, Soul Notes , & DIWs from the late eighties/early nineties would require an unusual number of fingers and toes IIRC. I overdosed on Murray back in those days and have since lost track and interest.

    In concert Murray lives up to the maxim of “it ain’t braggin if you can back it up” with plenty of grandstanding but little finesse. However just like KVM I find his playing chock full of repeated licks and phrases ( also like Sonny Stitt). There’s plenty of huff and puff but i’m not convinced there is much soul or conviction. Perhaps this is my fault for drinking too much at Murray’s bar but as a consequence I’ve felt little need to return to his work. Having said all that I recently picked a Sunny Murray date from 1979 (Moers) in which his younger name sake really kicks it around and it’s all very exciting. Perhaps it’s time to revisit some his BS output. Duly added to my listening list. BS and SN vinyl is very good considering the period it was produced. Many gems to be had for small change ( i.e around £7).

  6. I think I suggested Murray for inclusion in your best tenor poll LJC https://londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/the-sax-factor-vote-now-for-your-favourite-tenors/ .
    For me, along with Joe Lovano, he is one of the great modern tenors who has really kept the jazz tradition alive. If I may say so, with apologies to Archie Shepp, I think Murray is the finer saxophonist.
    Funnily enough I stupidly passed up this same record on ebay recently – but I do aim to add it to my Black Saint Murray albums.
    IMO the Black Saint vinyl records are easily superior to later Murray albums released on CD in sonic terms. I also have Ming’s Samba – with the incomparable Ed Blackwell – on a wafer-thin CBS ‘Portrait’ pressing and that sounds pretty good. This is an under-rated classic which surely deserves a vinyl reissue – presumably there are master tapes somewhere.
    The essential purchase though, I think, is Ming, again on Black Saint. Side one is quite ‘challenging’ but side two is a thing of great beauty. The Lush ballad Ming features the wonderful playing of great trombonist George Lewis, while Jasvan, and the superb composition Dewey’s Circle, has some of trumpeter Olu Dara’s finest work and some outstanding collective improvisation.
    Incidentally, on the Black Saint back catalogue is the classic, Voodoo, by the Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet led by John Zorn – all Clark compositions – which accurately updates the classic Blue Note records with very limited free elements – again the pressing and recording are excellent.

  7. I think it was me, LJC. I’ve banged on about Murray in a couple of posts. And my God, there’s so much to choose from. Not always great, perhaps, but rarely dull. I think the count stands at something like 90 records and counting. MING is one of the finest. As a rough guide, his trio records are generally the most free and with age and the passage of time he retreats somewhat from the free/Ayler influence of the earliest records.cbut oddly one of the greatest records is amongst the earliest – Flowers For Albert, on India Navigation. Explore and enjoy – with the Black saints you can do so cheaply enough….

    • Yes, Alun it was you. You banged on about this guy, you are to blame, shame on me.. I’ve got a couple on order right now, quite happy to go in blind, he has a huge discography, I am happy to poke around see what comes up.

  8. Yup, Murray is one of the good guys, contemporary but with clear and deep roots in the noble jazz tradition. Saw him give a wonderful concert performance at the RFH sometime last century. Black Saint produced some great stuff in this period – I’m listening to a lot of Anthony Braxton on Black Saint, his ‘Six Monk’s Compositions’ (1987) has become one of my all-time favourites.

  9. I respect your dislike of the “evil silver disc.” However, were you to have a moment of weakness, you may find the recently released David Murray Octets boxed set quite rewarding. It collects five albums from Murray’s prime early-mid ’80 with an excellent swinging little big band. If not, hopefully you will be able yo track some of these LP’s on vinyl, they are truly remarkable recordings. Excellent blog by the way. Keep up the good work.

  10. Big David Murray fan. He is killer in concert. A few of my favorites:

    MIng’s Samba
    3D Family
    Live At the Sweet Basil Vol 1 & 2
    Plays Nat King Cole En Espanol (CD only)
    Like A Kiss That Never Ends (CD only)

  11. Murray is a personal favorite and his Black Saint recordings are among his best. If you like the Morning Song track, the album of the same name is worth tracking down. Its an adventure with Murray, free, blues, ballads… duos, quartets, quintets to big bands. Good stuff indeed.

  12. This is a great record by a phenomenal musician. I have quite a few Murray’s and really dig him. Black Saint is an excellent sounding label for this period and this kind of music. Makes ECM sound dull and antiseptic by comparison. This is a great record, so is the other Black Saint, the Randy Weston/David Murray soul jazz duo album, The Healer. My favourite Murray is his duet with Khalil El Zabar on Golden Sea (Sound Aspect label). They are very affordable as well.

    Thank you for venturing into the 80’s! There is more to life than just Blue Note, RVG, Esquire, Riverside et al.

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