Naive Melody

David Murray Octet
Black Saint : 1982

DM, bass clarinet; Henry Threadgill, bass flute; Olu Dara, trumpet; Lawrence “Butch” Morris, cornet; George Lewis, trombone; Anthony Davis, piano; Wilber Morris, bass; Steve McCall, percussion.

David Murray
Deep River
DIW : 1989

DM, tenor sax; Dave Burrell, piano.

Folks could be forgiven for thinking that every tenor sax they hear — on a barroom jukebox; from an open window; backing a shampoo commercial; on a subway platform; under the closing credits — is David Murray’s. The man has impressive list of recordings to his credit, and an almost equally impressive number of dates as a sideman. Yet only last year Tom Hull wrote in the Village Voice that, despite Murray’s status as “far and away the greatest tenor saxophonist of his generation,” his records are “hard to find, little known, and in many cases out of print.”

This is hard to believe. Not so much the out of print part, which afflicts seemingly everyone in jazz, but “little known”? Is that possibly true? If it is, part of the reason lies in Murray’s willingness to ally himself with some phenomenal musicians, and to forego the star-making solo turn for something more wedded to a group dynamic and ensemble sound. This is principly true of his work as one of the four original pillars of the World Saxophone Quartet (the only group to get more votes than John Carter in the Voice 1980s jazz poll). It is also strikingly true of his octet work on Black Saint.

This band is insane; no weak links (and a pair of brothers). The track from Home opens with an understated chiming piano intro by Davis. Then the band enters softly, tiptoeing onto center stage, all humming the same sighing note. The tone here is one of flooding tranquility, best represented by Threadgill’s breathtaking bass flute solo — one of his very best turns on the instrument. Nobody in the band rushes the tune or strains to be heard. The musicians mesh into a single tapestry, finding a sound somewhere north of Ellington and west of Mingus, a mellow tone that would be perfectly soothing if it weren’t also so fragile.

Several years later, Murray revisits the tune as part of his marathon January 1988 sessions for DIW that resulted in five separate albums. A duet with longtime collaborator Dave Burrell, the rigorous discipline of the octet version is replaced by a fluid, more demonstrative energy. Murray initially takes the spotlight, teasing out notes and spiking the lovely melody with dissonant flourishes. Burrell commands the second half of the song with a solo that’s equal parts zen meditation and atonal cluster bombs. Serious minimalist swagger.

We don’t usually dig the compare and contrast mode, but these two versions of “Home” are radically different enough to warrant your attention. The first, showcasing Murray as composer and arranger, sounds like an idealized notion of home as imagined by a crew on their way, yet in no hurry to get there. The second highlights Murray the soloist; this guy’s been home for a while and has started to notice some new cracks in the foundation, missing slate on the roof, a boiler on its last legs. There’s no place like it, for better and for worse.

It’s only naturual such a restless player would reinvent a tune about home. During the 1980s, especially, we imagine Murray as little more than a blur, continually rushing between live dates and studio sessions, churning out albums and racking up frequent-flier miles, home being anyplace he hangs his horn. Â

$ $ $

These records are offically OOP but can be found with some work, and both deserve to be heard in their entirety. The curious consumer might try DMG or OmniTone, in addition to any usual used haunts.

Category David Murray

24 Responses to Naive Melody

  1. Wow, that octet recording is just gorgeous. The Ming album was just rereleased via iTunes if anyone is interested – same octet lineup I believe.

  2. Hey- I’ve been drawn back to Murray lately through the Big Band recordings, The Hill with Joe Chambers and Richard Davis, and the Spirituals album. I’ve developed a conspiracy theory regarding Murray: the “neo-mainstream” movement in jazz that arose contemporaneously with some of Murray’s amazing ’80s work *intentionally* blotted him off the radar screen. Of course anyone familiar with my worldview knows I blame *everything* on Ken Burns.


  3. Murray has always left me mostly cold, for reasons I can’t really put my finger on or put into words. But I’ll check these two tracks out, ’cause free is free.

  4. hmmm… like (i imagine) everyone else i was very impressed when i saw that line-up, but i can’t say i like the arrangement much. am i really the only one who thinks that sounds like tv incidental music?

    far more interested in the second version, though it does seem to go on a bit – both murray and burrell have some interesting things to say, but sometimes it seems as if they’ve chosen a funny piece in which to say it.

    IS murray â??far and away the greatest tenor saxophonist of his generationâ?? that sounds surprisingly axiomatic… how many years to a generation, anyway..?

  5. Murray’s compositions have always amazed me how he hits you in the gut and sometimes the heart, Ming being a perfect example. The octet version, as well as the quartet version are achingly beautiful.

  6. Itâ??s good to see some David Murray at DO. And two great versions of a Murray classic.

    Home was originally recorded on the 1978 Black Saint album Interboogieology, and this makes a good contrast as well. The arrangement is much closer to the Deep River duet although the band then was another quartet: Murray (ts); Lawrence “Butch” Morris (c); Johnny Mbizo Dyani (b), and Andrew Cyrille (d).

    The Black Saint CDs are all still available (I understand they never delete anything!) but they are harder to get in the US than Europe.

    Murray actually claims he has been on over 260 album recordings, although Iâ??ve only been able to track down 150 or so. Iâ??m not at all convinced about the hard to get hold of claim, either. Although he almost always records on small (most often European) independent labels much of his material is available from internet retailers. His current Canadian label has all his catalogue available.

    His role in the neo-classical Jazz debacle is an interesting one, and more complex than people often think. Although Murray was often used as a point of contrast to Marsalis, both players were originally championed by Stanley Crouch. Iâ??ve just started to post a series of bits on Murray and this debate on my own infrequent blog. You can read instalment one at

  7. That’s quite an installment, Tim. Thanks for the tip, and further background on Murray. (Crouch wrote the liners for the Home album, incidentally.

  8. Excellent post! I love David Murray’s music. This is an awesome blog! Check out my blog at

  9. Well, I feel a little braver since somebody already said they don’t like them so much; I was thinking about quoting somebody else from an email correspondence, which at least allows you to make criticisms, or even mistakes, without strangers going into pit-bull mode. But anyway, here are my 2 bits:

    I usually like his ballad playing, but otherwise pretty hit and miss. He strikes me as essentially a sloppy blues player who uses a lot of avant-guard affectations to cover up his mistakes; I guess in a way you could say something similar about, say, Archie Shepp or Lester Bowie, both of whom I love, but they have much better ears, better time, and just a lot more conviction in their playing (I’d also say they have a stronger foundation in the tradition, despite Murrays stylistic references to Gonsalves etc.) In ballads, though, he’s more likely melodic and soulful, has room to noodle around and make his mistakes sound good, and generally avoids his more flatulent affectation.

    As for “greatest of his generation,” I just wish people would avoid this kind of language (and I should do a better job of avoiding it myself), because it just leads to aguments about what the hell “great” means. It’s really a pretty useless word.

  10. …and now I’ve listened to it. Beautiful

  11. godoggo, your honesty, both versions, is commendable.

    centrifuge, I think we’re beginning to get a very clear delineation of your sonic aesthetic. congratulations on the church #9 gig, wherein we’ll all be able to get an even more unbridled sense of what you are digging on.

  12. btw Lester once described his style as “all mistakes”…

  13. Hi- I sometimes forget to take note of certain miraculous occurrences in this music. One of those miracles is the emrgence of an original voice in the wake of titanically influential forebears. Murray manages to be instantly recognizable as himself on tenor sax in particular despite the Coltrane effect. Post-Coltrane tenor players who aren’t apeing Trane are surprisingly easy to take for granted. One could argue that Murray jumps back to pre-Trane influences (such as Coleman Hawkins) or Ayler-esque influences. Either way, Murray developed a distinct voice.


  14. great post. I love murray. It is extremely difficult to find musicians with the sheer breadth of his output – solo to big bands, african, cuban, gospel, funk, etc . . . he seemingly goes everywhere, and to my ears, always comes out with something interesting. check out his latest release on Justin Time called Waltz Again, for an example. With strings; not in the horns plus strings fashion, but much more modern – like a Russian symphony, dark and intense, with the blues smeered all over it. Anyways, always loved the Octet discs.

  15. thank you professor :) you can get a pretty good idea of what i’m digging on just from my involvement with the church, of course…

  16. After I published my David Murray “genius guide” in the Voice, someone wrote me saying that DIW was still available in Japan. I couldn’t confirm that, but do know they’re hard to find in the US. (Only DMG seems to be able to stock them at all regularly.) Most of what Murray recorded appeared from 1986-96 appeared on DIW, so that represents a tremendous hole in his discography. His Soul Note (mostly pre-DIW) and Justin-Time (later) records can be found in the usual places, but aren’t stocked (for instance) by any of the outlets in my home town. The Red Barons are all out of print, but they used to be pretty easy to find cut out. There’s a lot of other stuff that he’s done on small labels, quite a bit out of print — e.g., the early India Navigation stuff.

    How well known he is seems to be a pretty sharp line: very well known on one side, hardly at all on the other. He got a lot of critical support in the ’80s, especially from Gary Giddins at the Voice. One measure of that is that “Ming” is the best selling album in Black Saint/Soul Note history. On the other hand, it only took 20,000 copies to accomplish that, which helps quantify that line. I don’t know about his other titles, but I doubt that he hit that level very often. Obviously, a lot of jazz musicians have trouble selling 10% of that, so I wouldn’t say by any measure that’s he’s obscure or neglected. Still, it’s pretty clear that a lot of people who think of themselves as jazz fans have no real idea who he is or what he’s done.

    Point taken re “great” — but the editor was calling for “genius guides” and I had to assert that he belonged alongside Coltrane, Monk, Holiday, and Sun Ra. Anyhow, the media always loves a good fight, and for once I got the chance to throw the first punch.

  17. Thanks much for stopping by and commenting, Tom. Murray is certainly better known since you wrote that guide, though your point about the line sounds true to my ears. Thanks, too, for the details re MING. That kind of hard info is often lacking, and helps to put a conversation like this into a (slightly) larger context. See also this article, recently linked to by Mwanji.

  18. Is it true? Are the master pieces of the incredible David Murray Octet released by the Italian label Black Saint out of print? The label homepage is since many many months on a hiatus, so maybe Bonandrini called it the quits?

    This would be very sad, since so many great recordings by AACM members and other American Jazz Avantgardists were released by Bonandrini, either on the Black Saint or the Soul Note label. I could never track down ‘Home’, but have some of his other Octet releases – and they are among my favorite releases of improvised music, together with Air, Braxton, George Lewis, MR Abrams, Leo Smith and a few others…

    Thx for sharing it – and thx in GENERAL!!! ;)

  19. Great response to these Murray tracks by the looks of the comments alone, which is nice to see. If measured by the number of records by an artist that I treasure, Murray is probably my favorite tenor player, at least of the 80’s early 90’s. Ming holds top spot for me, but Home and many others come pretty close. I also just over a year ago got a hold of Low Class Conspiracy from 1976, a trio recording with Phillip Wilson on drums and the fab Fred Hopkins on bass. I loved it!

    Btw: stock Balck Saint records (incl Home) and they sell for around 16$. Not sure about back orders, though.

  20. You may all be interested to know that part two of my DM essay is now on my blog at

    All Black Saint CDs retail for 8 pounds stirling in the UK (about $16 at the moment), so if you are willing to pay the postage you can get them easily. markets have several companies selling Home at $30 second hand!

  21. Great posts on David Murray, Tim. Thanks for letting us know.

  22. Starting this month, there seem to be a ton of David Murray releases (mostly Black Saint) on Depending on your membership plan, could be as cheap as 3 for a buck.

  23. Great find, artAlexion! Added an eMusic link above, as a counter to the track deletions.