2 November 2008

David Murray Flowers For Albert

David Murray Flowers For Albert

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.


Wallofsound said...

links to 320kbps mp3 files:

links to audiophile flacs:

ABE said...

Thank you thank you thank you

Anonymous said...

Thanks, WoS. I remember buying this record when it first came out in 1976, and it triggered some shock-waves. Here was a hot young new player. At that time, Coltrane had been dead for nearly 10 years, Ayler for nearly 7 and, with the exception of Sam Rivers, Dewey Redman, and occasionally Sonny Rollins, America was seriously short of good sax players. So this record caused quite a stir. (By contrast, Europe had Brotzmann, Evan Parker, Breuker and a string of others, including Honorary European Frank Wright, since virtually no American seemed to have heard of him then). So Murray's arrival on the US scene had a serious impact, for which this record was largely responsible.

SOTISE said...

T...you beat me to the punch on this , i was just about to post it
great album ,one of murrays best from the period.

SOTISE said...

see also
the other "flowers for albert referred to above..at 320 only , i could up the flacs, at the time there seemed to be little interest in murray here on sol.
one anonymous thank you.

glmlr ..what about frank lowe, who doesnt figure on your list of great us 70's tenors, chico freeman was also peaking ,no?
fred anderson.
joe henderson was still in his prime..unlike rollins.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, this is so excellent! Thanks for this and for all your other postings. This is one blog I visit regularly.

Anonymous said...


In 1976, Lowe and Anderson were way below most folks' radar in the US. Lowe's few recordings then were on hard-to-find-in-America European labels (except just one ESP), Anderson was barely known by anyone outside of Chicago. Chico Freeman's star came and went in just 3 years, 1977-1979, from his India Navigation debut. Joe Henderson had peaked in the 60's with his Blue Notes, but lost a lot of his fans in the 70's with those Milestones. In 1976, Henderson was old school, like many other former greats, e.g. Dexter, Getz etc. So Murray's sudden arrival found him on willingly fertile ground - then.

serviceton said...

3 nights ago, I was listening to Murray live play Flowers For Albert , with his 'Black Saint Quartet'.
That beautiful rolling theme of Flowers.. fractured, splintered and thrown away .. (an old war-horse, barely given a cursory trot round the yard)
Then 8 choruses of the most coruscating and inspired soloing on tenor saxophone that I have heard from Murray in years. Wonderful.

Thanks for this one Wallofsound - I had it, but lost it years ago.
Can I point out too (in addition to your perceptive words above) the quite wonderful Philip Wilson shines on this, as on about everything he drummed on. Great talent, unfairly relegated to 'just-another-guy-on-the-scene' status, died too young.
On this record, as you point out, 'Great Band', period.

ps - concert I mentioned above *was* recorded, though I have no tapes as yet. If there is any interest...

Wallofsound said...

serviceton, I've got a recording of Murray's current quartet Live in Berlin, but I'd love to hear any other recording of Murray's current tour. Couldn't agree with you more about Wilson. He lifted every group he played with.

Wallofsound said...

The India Navigation label blog is starting to produce some wonderful music. Best so far has to be James Newton's The Mystery School from 1979 with John Carter.


SOTISE said...

thanks for the headz up on the newton...wos.
as for phillip wilson what a tragedy ,i believe he was murdered in his own home.
theres very little info about him on the web.
not even a simple wikipedia article.

Unknown said...

Thank you, wallofsound.
This articles was very useful for my understanding of jazz, David Murray's music. It's excellent.
And I know there is more deeply on your wordpress too :)


Term papers said...

Your article is very well written. Can't wait to read more. It was an excellent read. I have enjoyed reading. and Hope to read more in future..

Yorgos Erkan said...

There is a solo recording, from 1976, Murray made for the record label Alan Rosanes was going to launch, entitled "The Last of the Boudoir Saxophones". I was never released as far as I know. Disagreement about the cover.

Hookfinger said...

I certainly came late to this post but I am ecstatic to find it still live. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insightful comments on both this
wonderful recording and the presence of David
Murray in NYC in the 70's. I'll respond to your comment, "I try to visualize what it must have been
like to sit in a large post-industrial New York space
and hear this music for the first time...how it must
have felt to be there watching as well as listening
I can only imagine."

I was at this concert, which was the first time I'd
heard David Murray play. It was overwhelmingly exciting to hear this very young player play with such authority, originality, power, and freshness.
It was thrillng too to hear the collective playing
of this very together band, most of whom I had
heard before and always looked forward to hearing again.

I recall sitting there feeling just totally knocked
out by how great the music was and thinking,
"This guy must be one of the greatest musicians
in the world right now!" The rest of the
audience felt the same way, as you could tell
from the intense applause. I recall that during one
long stretch of mostly solo bass with maybe
some sparse interjections from one horn, a woman
in the audience sobbed very loudly throughout.
Since the original issue of this music on LP I have wondered how they kept her sobs out of the final recording.

I don't know about the "large post-industrial New York space" idea which has nothing to do
with the reality of the very humble and rather
small loft spaces like the Lady's Fort.

Your comments really brought back to me that heady time when it seemed that one could go out
practically every night and, for a few dollars,
hear great music like this. Hard to believe now.

kinabalu said...

New links:



-Otto- said...

Very glad about the re-up. Thank you, WoS and kinabalu, and whoever else was involved!

Ernst Grgo Nebhuth said...

Great it is still available. Thanks Kinabalu.
Also thanks to Wallofsound for his article misunderstanding
which made me realise that I do not know this recording.
Before I thought that I knew this music quiet well......

Javier Roz said...

Great re-up. Thanks kinabalu!

francisco santos said...