Sunday is the appropriate day to post a tribute to one of my most beloved musicians, who just passed away on Friday at 81 after a career altering the DNA of the Earth.
I remember 20+ years ago when I was learning to play the drums, and listening to today's honoree's 1960s ESP-Disk albums as part of my self-tutelage.
He started out on the avant foot with Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler in the early 1960s, just as Free Jazz was starting to really explode.
His unprecedented approach to drumming was arguably the catalyst that helped the most "out there" genre of American music get "in there" and reach a mass audience.
I guess if I had to explain it, I'd say that he turned the norms of the drums on their head (get it?), inverting the usual patterns of cymbal color and snare accent to emphasize more of the pulse on top of the kit and more of the color below.
His pulsing cymbal swells supplied rideable waves for the soloists to surf upon as they attempted to catch the Big Kahuna of pure Energy Music.
There are whole albums he recorded where he touches his snare no more than twice in the whole session. There are still others where he batters it like it owes him money. I counted up the number of sessions he's on both as leader and sideman, and got 120.
The argument could be made that without him the whole idea of Free playing would never have amounted to more than a pile of cacaphonous noise. He's that central to its development and the horizons of possibility it ended up charting.
We certainly know that Sunny Murray, over the course of a half-century-plus career in the vanguard, created something unprecedented and of a very high energy in his many years at the forefront of improvisation, idiomatic and not-so-idiomatic.
It really is no exaggeration to reiterate that the whole Free thing may never have gotten anywhere had he not done so much to lend rhythmic guidance and a controlled, furious drive to its silent ebbs and hot-lava flows.
He left us a couple of days ago, but the changes and the ideas he brought to the table aren't going to prove to be quite so temporary.
To honor this driven dervish of the drums, we have a slice of real history coming your way, courtesy of a vintage FM broadcast of an hourlong set recorded at the height of the 1970s NYC Loft Jazz movement, worked on by me to provide optimal sonics.
Sunny Murray’s Untouchable Factor
New York City, NY
01 Untitled Improvisation
Total time: 1:01:55
Byard Lancaster - bass clarinet & reeds
David Murray - tenor saxophone
Kazutoki Umezu - alto saxophone
Juma Sultan - electric bass
Monnette Sudler - electric guitar
Sunny Murray - drums
sounds like a master FM cassette, possibly of a WBAI-FM broadcast; slightly repaired and remastered by EN
381 MB FLAC/December 2017 archive link
There will never be another Sunny Murray and this performance, a Loft Jazz history lesson in its own right straight from Sam Rivers' legendary Studio Rivbea at 24 Bond Street in Lower Manhattan at the peak of the era, illustrates several aspects of why.
It's also somewhat unusual in that it has Juma Sultan -- who most notably played percussion with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock and on Dick Cavett's talk show in the summer of 1969, but began his musical life as a bass player -- on electric bass, which leads the ensemble into a few ostinato passages along the way that start to sound less like a fiery Free Jazz freakout and more like Miles Davis' "Dark Magus," or even the noodlier, jazzier improvs of 1971/72 King Crimson.
Of course it does feature plenty of those maelstrom Out pyrotechnics... it wouldn't be him if it didn't sound like the Big Bang reenacted upon a set of trap drums. So we urge you as always to please never forget Sunny Murray, without whom the trajectory of the music we love would surely not have been the same.
Beyond that, R.I.P. to the Maestro and of course do enjoy this remaster of an unbelievable and historic concert, transmitted by galaxy-class explorers from the heart of a golden age in the endless annals of Jazz lore.--J.
9.21.1936 - 12.8.2017