Friday, June 3, 2011

David Murray Octet - The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note

1. Ming (1980)
2. Home (1982)
3. Murray's Steps (1983)
4. New Life (1987)
5. Hope Scope (1991)
(recordings originally issued by Black Saint)

David Murray - tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
alto saxophone - Henry Threadgill (1-3; also flute, bass flute), John Purcell (4), James Spaulding (5)
1. trumpet - Olu Dara (1-2), Bobby Bradford (3), Hugh Ragin (4-5)
2. trumpet -  Lawrence "Butch' Morris (1-3; cornet) Baikida Carroll (4), Rasul Siddik (5)
trombone - Geore Lewis (1-2),  Craig Harris (3-5)
piano - Anthony Davis (1-2), Curtis Clark (3), Adegoke Steve Colson (4), Dave Burrell (5)
bass - Wilber Morris (1-5)
drums - Ste McCall (1-3), Ralph Peterson Junior (4-5)

The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note
CAM London 2011

Hard to review 5 albums at once but it's actually the easiest box of the series to write about* and I just want to draw some attention to this project - fantastic music drawn from the vast archives of Black Saint and Soul Note presenting great chapters of jazz history is being remastered and made available at incredibly likeable price. An incredible opportunity to fill some gaps in any record collection.

The Octet is widely considered the perfect vehicle for David Murray's music, more elastic and easier to control than his big band sessions, but providing a wide sonic palette and power to display Murray's arrangement skills (as well as his soloing and compositional talents). This group (despite the personnel changes the instrumental line-up remains the same) fits the entire history of black music on any given 40-minutes LP. The orchestral arrangements owe much to Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington, the memorable themes feed on blues, latin, gospel, r'n'b, funk, african chants, swing, bop and avant-guarde (and more). This group can swing or groove tightly  or break loose in free ensemble improvisation. Play jovial and jubilant or free and screaming. Sooth you with lush harmonies and soulfull ballads or cut the edge with dissonant choirs.
The extended compositions (4-5 for a cd) allow for much soloing space and a quick look on the names list above will tell you what to expect - solos are powerfull statements, searching and passionate. But as much as those guys can go wild solo, they thrive in ensemble passages, bringing life to a great set of tunes and arrangements.
I'm just through with the first listen of this set and I don't really feel like comparing those albums. One could try to look for the favourites songs (although "Morning Song" from "New Life" is close to being my favourite for the moment - it will get you dancing in no time). Or comparing the slight differences in approach brought by the personnel changes (Dave Burrell's presence on piano brings more harmonic tension to "Hope Scope" compared with the earlier recordings). But I'm much happier having it all instead of trying to single out one of those recordings. This collection will bring immeasureable joy to any jazz fan.

PS  I don't know if the difference in sound quality between the original and remastered is noticeable at all. One  could also miss the liner notes or the photos that were presented with the original cd releases (just a vinyl-replica slipcases in the box) but it would be unreasonable to focus on that aspect of the economical packaging (although it would be much welcomed if those could be published on-line maybe). 

*This box gathers together 5 cds recorded by David Murray's Octet and the focus it brings make it easier to digest it all at once and treat as a whole. Most of the other boxes (great packages delivering the music by Cecil Taylor, Henry Threadgill, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon and others) bring more diversified bands (led by given artist) together which, as great music as it is, makes it much more difficult to grasp (for example Braxton's box brings one duo, four different quartets, three different orchestras, including a one act play,  together - impossible to process it all in one text)

The Octet performing the "Morning Song" in Warsaw during the Jazz Jamboree in 1983.
On that note I feel it's important enought to point out that the only musician (apart from the leader) who plays on all the recordings is Wilber Morris and his contribution to the this group is immense,  just check the groove in this song. (the song is cut in two clips, follow the youtube link for the "B" part).

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