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The listener’s guide to David Murray records from the 1990s May 31, 2007

Posted by wallofsound in David Murray, Jazz.

I’ve taken up Destination Out’s challenge to suggest some David Murray 1990s records that stand up to his 1980s material.

David Murray released 39 albums in the 1990 as leader, although three were actually recorded in the late 1980s. The World Saxophone Quartet released seven, and I’ve also tracked down a further 11 where he is a featured sideman on other leaders’ dates. At least 57 records in ten years!

It’s actually possible to link his recordings to his record labels. In the early 1990s most of his releases are on the Japanese DIW label, then there is s flurry of Red Baron releases from, the label run by Bob Thiele. After 1997 almost all his work is on Canadian label Justin Time. Having said that he does get material out on a further nine labels, including the Italian Black Saint imprint that had released the majority of his pre-1990 material.

What should you listen to? Well all of it of course!

But if you want to start in some key places here’s a few suggestions.

Let’s get the contentious ones out of the way first. Ballads and Spirituals were both released in 1990, but they had been part of a mammoth recording session in 1988 which gave Murray’s then new label a vault of probably some of his best material for the new listener. The albums divided material up around some themes fairly well suggested by the titles. ‘Ballad for a Black Man’ and ‘Blues for my Sisters’ (a choice from each) are just wonderful.

Murray then gets a dream date with two of Coltrane’s old rhythm section to produce a Quartet with David Murray (ts), McCoy Tyner (p), Fred Hopkins (b), Elvin Jones (d). Murray also tackles Coltrane’s ‘Cousin Mary’; only the fourth Coltrane number Murray had covered up to that point. It’s a strong jazz album, but in relation to his other output it always feels a little too over produced and packaged to me.

There are a clutch of piano duets (and album as a sideman with McCoy Tyner that introduced him to Bob Thiele). The duos range from a quite remarkable recording with Aki Takase exploring Monk and ‘Body and Soul’ to two albums with long-time collaborator Dave Burrell (I’d go for the live In Concert).

Of the less well known material everyone should own Andrew Cyrille Quintet’s Coltrane tribute Ode To The Living Tree and Bobby Battle’s The Offering.

Then comes the problem of highlighting some of the Murray-led material (it’s all great). Of the two Big band albums I’d go for the Latin experiment South Of The Border, although as David Murray Big Band conducted by Lawrence “Butch” Morris suggests there’s some great “conduction” (improvisation through a conductor) on the other. I put the David Murray James Newton Quintet album in my list of the best from the 1990s for a very good reason. This record needs listening to at least once a year after an intensive daily play for a month after you first buy it.

From the four Octet LPs I’ve never got the Grateful Dead tribute, but Hope Scope is just one of the outstanding releases of his whole career (but was actually recorded in 1987 and stored up by Black Saint for reasons I don’t understand; that was four years of not listening to it!) I’ve always struggled with Picasso, but Plays Coltrane was sort of inevitable by 1999.

If you want quartets Murray has them aplenty. Cook and Morton like Fast Life best, but I just love the Bobby Bradford composed John Carter-tribute Death of a Sideman, and the Pullen-tribute The Long Goodbye. Murray’s playing on these, and many of the other numbers dedicated to his former colleagues, is some of his most emotional. His most personal work is his best. Just to push the point home, for his WSQ work the Johnny Dhani tribute M’Bizo, and the Miles Davis tribute Selim Sivad are must haves. Four Now is the best saxes with African musicians album.

You also need Tenors and Body and Soul (and may as well include which explore the Jazz saxophone tradition.

I love the two Shakill’s Warrior organ quartet albums that came out in the 1990s and it was great to see them score so well in the DO lists. They weren’t received so well at the time. Pullen’s playing is just a revelation.

Just get your credit card out and start buying.

There’s lots more David Murray on my blog.

You can start with a three-part article tracing his development.

Then if you’ve really got a sense of adventure you can read my detailed discussion of just one of his records: Conceptual Saxophone.



1. Chuck B - June 1, 2007

“Just get your credit card out and start buying.”

If only you could! So much is unavailable. Any hints?

2. wallofsound - June 5, 2007

I think I’d start with Deep River from 1988. There are several copies for sale on ebay includng a clear yellow vinyl LP copy!

3. Embedding RSS for jazz pianists at New Music Strategies - July 30, 2007

[…] I’m certainly aware of your work. I was a jazz broadcaster in New Zealand for 6 years and ran a little jazz record label (into the ground, as it happens). I now work with Professor Tim Wall and share his enthusiasm for David Murray’s work (and, of course, your contribution) — though obviously he has a much deeper and richer appreciation. […]

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