India Navigation IN 1026
Recorded live on June 26 1976 at Ladies’ Fort, NYC
David Murray (ts)
Olu Dara (tp)
Fred Hopkins (b)
Phillip Wilson (d)
1. Flowers For Albert (Murray) (14:18)
2. Santa Barbara and Crenshaw Follies (Murray) (15:53)*
3. Joanne’s Satin Green Dress (Lawrence “Butch” Morris) (12:56)
4. After All This (Murray) (13:59)*
1. Roscoe (Murray) (9:05)
2. The Hill (Murray) (17:55)*
3. Ballad For A Decomposed Beauty (Murray) (9:18)
* not on original LP.My second new contribution to the India Navigation fest taking place at http://indianavigation.blogspot.com is David Murray's debut solo release. The original record was made up of parts of a live concert by his then quartet in one of New York’s famous 70s Jazz lofts, the Ladies’ Fort.
I'd been totally immersed in Murray's 1980 work before I tracked a copy of this earlier recording down, and I can still remember being completely thrown. It is quite remarkable how mature all aspect of the record are: his compositions are some of the most notable of the 1970s; his playing is superb; and the group with then regular collaborators Dara, Hopkins and Wilson is one of the best of this period of jazz for my money. There's a small, but very enthusiastic audience, and I try to visualise while listening what it must have been like to sit in a large post-industrial New York space and hear this music for the first time. It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck bristle today; how it must have felt to be there watching as well as listening I can only imagine.
The recording is significant for its music, its place in jazz history, and the way it has been used to interpret Murray. Here's a few thoughts on all that:
There are ten versions of ‘Flowers for Albert’ to be listened to on Murray recordings. This was the first time it was recorded. Most bibliographies note that the title track is named after Albert Ayler, and then infer this as evidence that Murray is an Ayler disciple. The fact that Murray played some of his first New York gigs with his near namesake drummer Sunny Murray – who had been the powerhouse of Ayler’s 1964-5 recordings that included the mighty Spiritual Unity – must have made Murray very aware of Ayler. There are also some undoubted comparisons to be made. The obvious one, most often made, is that both men manipulate the saxophone in a manner that pushes it outside its ‘normal’ musical uses. Murray clearly shares Ayler’s early interest in pushing the mechanics of the instrument to do things few other players realised, or even imagined. Less often noted is the strong roots in, and exploration of, gospel music. Or more specifically the aspects of gospel that relate to the emotional power and ecstatic nature of gospel within African American music.
However, there are far more interesting things at play here. As the title suggests, and as Murray has confirmed in interviews, the flowers are to be left in memorial of Ayler’s death. The melody captures this perfectly. This version start with a Murray solo which tantalises us with fragments of the melody for a good minute before playing it through in its entirety. This is a simple and catchy line, and this interest in song-like melodies is probably the strongest characteristic of all Murray’s work. In interviews Murray tells us that the striking melodic line came into his head as he walked past the place on the bank of the East River where Ayler’s body was found. So, while other commentators make the link to Ayler playing in life as Murray’s major stylistic influence, we should perhaps see the sadness at his death as a catalyst for one example of Murray’s ability to articulate deep emotional responses through musical sound.
In fact the consistent use of the title to link Murray stylistically to Ayler is misguided. Listening to either recording, though, suggest far more interesting connections. For all his supposed influence Ayler only appears once as composer of a Murray recording in the nearly 800 tracks available. The point is important because although Murray tends to record mainly his own compositions and those of his closest associates, a small but significant number of his recorded performances are of pieces widely associated with players who Murray has noted as being significant in his personal development. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn are responsible for the bulk of this category, often those connected to the Ellington band’s long-time tenor player Paul Gonzalves; but compositions also associated with other tenor players like Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane feature often. The one Ayler composition played by Murray is 'Ghosts' from the mid-1960s, which features on the album Tenors: his celebration of these saxophonists. I've several posts on this issue here if you're interested.
The CD version I post here is expanded from the original vinyl release (the other Murray India Navigation CD re-releases usually cut tracks or performance lengths). This allows us to listen to previously unreleased versions of 'Santa Barbara And Crenshaw Follies' and 'The Hill' which he was to record again later in his career, and 'After All This' which doesn't seem to have been repeated. The twisted melody of 'Follies' precedes a great Murray solo set against marvelous Hopkins bass and Wilson's skipping drum work and off-kilter punctuation from Dara. It's a great example of Murray's earlier interest in hyper-emotional playing around single fragments of the lovely melodies he wrote. Dara seems to understand the process brilliantly, and they pass the solo opportunity on like the baton in a relay. Murray recorded the Hill four times, and on each occasion he produces an epic piece of over 10 minutes. Here it's longer still at over 17 minutes. The dynamic of future recordings is here from the beginning, but it doesn't yet have the majesty it would on Ming four years later.
I love 'Joanne's Green Satin Dress' which has a great two horn theme and some beautiful playing from both Dara and Murray. Dara was later to be quite disparaging about the music he played during this time, as well as critical of players in the New York loft scene. You couldn't tell that he was anything but delighted to be playing in this context on this track; and on the rest of the LP. 'Roscoe' meanders, but is sustained by a strong individual performance from Murray. It's more like a sax solo with percussion sprinkles. 'Ballad For A Decomposed Beauty' is one of the strongest titled pieces Murray recorded, and the sense of decay and melancholy is apparent in the melody and the playing, especially from Murray and Hopkins on bowed bass.
By the way, don't confuse this recording with the 1990 CD released by West Wind records of David Murray and the Low Class Conspiracy Flowers for Albert. This is actually a CD release covering the tracks from two LPs made just three days after the live recording I've been talking about here. The studio recordings were originally released on Circle Records as Live Vol 1: Penthouse Jazz and Live Vol 2: Holy Siege On Intrigue. The band on that occasion was David Murray (ts), Lawrence “Butch” Morris (c), Don Pullen (p), Fred Hopkins (b), and Stanley Crouch (d) [yes, that Mr Crouch].
I've done quite a bit of writing on Murray which (if you haven't done so already) you can explore at your leisure here.