JJ 05/92: David Murray – Shakill’s Warrior / David Murray Big Band

Thirty years ago Simon Adams hailed two new releases in a line of consistently excellent records from the California tenor man. First published in Jazz Journal May 1992


The Murray river continues to pour forth an ever increasing tor­rent of fine records, with new quartet, quintet (reviewed else­where in JJI) and big band sets for your delight, if not your wallet. There must be a flaw in this man somewhere, an occasional mean­der away from the consistently excellent, but don’t expect to find yourself diverted into any back­waters here.

The quartet set Shakill’s War­rior – named after the karate school attended by Murray’s son – pairs Murray with Don Pul­len on a Hammond B-3 organ. The result sounds like one of those classic sixties Blue Note records, but with more than enough of Pullen’s and Murray’s individualism to remind you of its actual record­ing date. The tracks vary consider­ably – from the ice cool blues of Black February that brings to mind Albert Collins through the Italian cool of Milano Strut to the Latin-tinged Cafe Central and Songs From The Old Country – but all inspire the four musicians to excel.

Even on such simple material as High Priest, based on an irritatingly catchy riff that repeats endlessly, or the slow, smoochy In The Spirit, a watch pot of a track that simmers along nicely but never quite boils over, Murray finds a new twist of phrase, an extra spurt of energy to leap into the high register, that takes his solos to just this side of uncomfortably close to the edge. Pullen sounds a natural on the Hammond (he first started play­ing the monster in the late seven­ties), simplifying his piano style while never losing sight of all har­monic and rhythmic possibilities, while Cyrille and Franks keep up the momentum with the occasional prod to keep the front-liners on their toes. In all ways, this is one of those instantly clas­sic albums that will be around for years to come. Class itself, and five stars all round.

Lots of stars too for the set from Murray’s big band, making one of its rarer excursions into the recording studio. Conductions – conductor-led improvised orches­trations – as ever by Butch Morris, the 18-piece ensemble storm through a hedge backwards, the ensuing pandemonium resulting in a set that as with the quartet album is both classic in its struc­ture and feel but right up to date in every note played.

The first three tracks – originally augmented with strings and written to a com­mission from Northeastern Uni­versity in Boston – are dedicated to a trio of great saxophonists. Paul Gonsalves takes the tenorist’s famous solo on Dimin­uendo and Crescendo In Blue at the 1956 Newport Festival – all 27 choruses of it – and adds Murray’s own accompaniment. It might not sound much like Gonsalves, any more than Lester and Ben bring to mind Young or Webster, but when did you last hear a great, modern, big band record, complete with raggedy edges and great big brass sections. As Murray says of this set: ‘Recording a big band album in the nineties is kind of like showing up for a rap concert with acoustic musicians instead of record DJs. Somehow I get the feeling that people are not making big band albums.’ Quite, and full marks for trying, and even more for succeeding.

Blues For Savannah; Song From The Old Country; High Priest; In The Spirit; Shakill’s Warrior; At The Cafe Central; Black February; Milano Strut (73.01)
David Murray (ts); Don Pullen (org); Stanley Franks (elg); Andrew Cyrille (d). Recorded New York City, March 1-2, 1991.
Paul Gonsalves; Lester; Ben; Cal­ling Steve McCall; Love Joy; Istan­bul; David’s Tune; Let The Music Take You (71.20)
David Murray (ts/bcl); Hugh Ragin, Graham Haynes, Rasul Siddik, James Zollar (t); Craig Harris, Frank Lacy, Al Patterson (tb); Vincent Chancey (frh); Bob Stewart (tu); John Purcell (as); James Spaulding (as/f); Patience Higgins (ts/ss); Don Byron (bar/cl); Sonelius Smith (p); Fred Hopkins (b); Tani Tabbal (d); Joel A. Brandon (w); G’Ra, Andy Bey (v); Law­rence ‘Butch’ Morris (conductor). Recorded New York City, March 5-6, 1991.