Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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David Murray Infinity Quartet [extended]

  • Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, Volume 1 [India Navigation, 1978] A-
  • Ming [Black Saint, 1981] A
  • Morning Song [Black Saint, 1984] A-
  • Children [Black Saint, 1986] B
  • Shakill's Warrior [DIW/Columbia, 1992] A+
  • Black and Black [Red Baron, 1992] ***
  • Jug-a-Lug [DIW, 1995] A-
  • Dark Star (The Music of the Grateful Dead) [Astor Place, 1996] Neither
  • Fo Deuk Revue [Justin Time, 1997] A-
  • Creole [Justin Time, 1998] ***
  • Gwotet [Justin Time, 2004] ***
  • Be My Monster Love [Motema, 2013] **
  • Seriana Promethea [Intakt, 2022] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

David Murray: Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club, Volume 1 [India Navigation, 1978]
Rarely do I find much use for jazz that not only abandons theme but disdains melodic development, as both "Obe" (which runs 18 minutes) and (more modestly) "Nevada's Theme" do here. But Murray's saxophone and Lester Bowie's trumpet speak polymorphically enough to sustain simple interest, and to make up for the futuristic abstractions there's "Bechet's Bounce," a gently satiric, fiercely infectious Dixieland romp. A-

David Murray: Ming [Black Saint, 1981]
Murray's dazzling technique hasn't yet won him a style, it's true. But he's only 26, and the committed eclecticism [ . . . ] it easy to achieve an instant voice. This record documents that sensibility superbly. Classic and cacophonous, it swings at its artiest, inspiring reassuringly down-to-earth performances from the likes of George Lewis and Anthony Davis as well as the superbly balanced stuff you expect from Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara, and Steve McCall. A

David Murray: Morning Song [Black Saint, 1984]
No concept here, and not much composition. Just three days in the studio with John Hicks, Reggie Workman, and Ed Blackwell, and not until the 11-minute version of Murray's only ordinary tune does it descend to the high level of convention you'd expect of such personnel. Murray ranges from terrific to transcendent (on Butch Morris's frenzied "Light Blue Frolic"), and during one passage Hicks turns into Cecil Taylor without surrendering any of his Hicksness. "Jitterbug Waltz" is the closest this comes to carnivalesque, but its driving swing and aural warmth should be all the body language you need. A-

David Murray: Children [Black Saint, 1986]
The best Blood I've heard in years, and then--a rumination called (and "about," I'll wager) "Death," a prolix deconstruction of "All the Things You Are," and an eight-minute trio showcase for kid drummer Marvin Smith (who earns every kudo). It remains a scandal that the most prolific, protean, and flat-out talented of the younger jazzmen still records for an Italian company. But he's got hotter ways to curry Blue Note's favor. B

David Murray: Shakill's Warrior [DIW/Columbia, 1992]
Murray is the most fluent saxophonist this side of Sonny Rollins, a far more expansive leader than King Wynton. His new big-band album serves up plenty of thrills and chills; hell, when he composes a string quartet I'll give it a shot. But I reserve the right to believe that his least pretentious record is his best. Backed by swinging beatmaster Andrew Cyrille on drums and tasty high school bandmate Stanley Franks on guitar, Murray enlists Don Pullen on organ in a knowing encomium to lounge r&b. Though too often the Hammond B-3 is a one-way ticket to Cornytown, Pullen the pianist is capable of clusters as abstract (not to say unlistenable) as Cecil Taylor's, and the tension works perfectly: his harmonic cool keeps the music honest and a little strange without ever stinting on emotion. As for Murray, you know he can blow--hot and hard, warm and soulful, sly and sleazy. He even rollicks through a Rollins-style calypso. The title tune owes Sammy Davis Jr.'s "The Candy Man." And the moody avant-garde move "Black February" swings anyway. A+

David Murray: Black and Black [Red Baron, 1992]
jazz and only jazz--deeper, funkier, and further out than Ask the Ages ("Black and Black") ***

David Murray: Jug-a-Lug [DIW, 1995]
Recommended recent jazz titles by this endlessly resourceful if suspiciously prolific recording artist include the Malcolm tribute-quickie MX (Red Baron), stirred and soured by Bobby Bradford's cornet, Saxmen (Red Baron), which knocks back Young-Rollins-Parker-Rouse-Stitt-Coltrane standards guaranteed to knock new jazz fans out, and Special Quartet (DIW/Columbia), featuring McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones to guess what conceptual end (start with Rhino's Coltrane box and proceed). I can also dig Shakill's II (DIW import), a less audaciously greasy follow-up to his first Don Pullen-drenched avant-lounge organ outing. But more to the pop point is the leap he takes here and on The Tip, cut during the same four-day burst: a funk band, period, or do I mean question mark-explanation point?! Imperfect for sure, but although I'd prefer it didn't swing so much, in fact the full-bodied confidence of the only-jazz that begins this set gives it the edge over The Tip, which never equals the Sly Stone and David Murray classics it takes off from. The drag throughout is keybman Robert Irving III, whose adoration of Joe Zawinul almost transforms The Tip into the darn good Weather Report album Murray's damn lucky this one ain't. The motorvator is bass-whomping Darryl Jones, who is all over this record once it gets going--most spectacularly on the loosey-goosey bass-clarinet workout "Acoustic Octo Funk," where Irving has the common sense to imitate Pullen for a while. They should have made a single album out of all this--real pop pros know an an outtake when they hear one. But it frees both Branford Marsalis and Maceo Parker to go back where they came from. A-

David Murray: Dark Star (The Music of the Grateful Dead) [Astor Place, 1996] Neither

David Murray: Fo Deuk Revue [Justin Time, 1997]
What generally costs African-jazz fusion its spark is that for the principals, jazz is hegemonic. However admiring the American instigator, he feels he has something to teach, and however proud his African collaborators, they adjust. In this Dakar-recorded big-band project, Murray and his New York cohort do the adjusting. After leading off with a typically attention-getting sax showcase, he hands the rhythms over to the mbalax-tinged Dieuf Dieul band and surrenders center stage to matched clarions Tidiane Gaye, Doudoud N'Daiye Rose, and Baaba Maal's brother Hamet; Dakar rappers Positive Black Soul; and the very New York-sounding Amiri Baraka. This music swings only as part of the total package, which has more forthright and complex beats to make its own. A-

David Murray: Creole [Justin Time, 1998]
Carnivalesque as sonny idea, but remember--one nice thing about rock and roll is you don't have to like flutes ("Mona," "Flor Na Paul"). ***

David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters: Gwotet [Justin Time, 2004]
He needs his ka drummer and his diaspora brass, but the heroes are guest co-tenor Pharoah Sanders and trap drummer Hamid Drake, Yanks both despite their sobriquets ("Gwotet," "Ovwa"). ***

Be My Monster Love [Motema, 2013]
If cocktail quartet with vocals is your concept, be sure to get paper on that chick singer you snagged ("Be My Monster Love," "Stressology") **

David Murray/Brad Jones/Hamid Drake: Seriana Promethea [Intakt, 2022]
With 92-year-old titan Sonny Rollins in involuntary retirement, 68-year-old lion Murray is without question not just the greatest tenor saxophonist working but by now entitled to stand tall alongside Webster and Adderley if not quite Rollins or Coltrane. If jazz was more than an auxiliary pleasure for me, I would have reviewed more than just a couple of his dozen-plus 21st-century albums. But I found this relatively simple thing--eight tracks laid down in one day in Zurich by a "brave new world trio" mid post-pandemic tour--gratifyingly specific and enticing. I don't know 67-year-old go-to drummer Drake's work well enough to claim it's exceptional here, but he definitely stands out the way a guy with his name on the cover should, whereas bassist Jones, who'll turn 60 May 20, does what a good bassist should: subtly thicken and/or elaborate the groove except that one special time when you pick up your bow. As for Murray, he's who you're listening for whether he's reaching high in his register on "Rainbows for Julia" and "Switchin' in the Kitchen" or just making like a sax man. Nor will you be sorry when you do. But you'll also enjoy two surprises he has ready: a switchoff to deep dark bass clarinet and a Sly Stone cover that'll make you scratch your head till you're fully reminded that it's been in the world for half a century. A-