|David Murray hears and plays ahead of the mainstream, having become one of the few true originals on the jazz scene. The power and passion of his playing, however, is deeply rooted in the history of the music. And like the most lasting of his predecessors, he has a sound and conception that are immediately identifiable.
"A lot of people," Murray has said, "have lost that idea of having a signature sound. When you get to be about thirty or thirty-five years old, you should be developing into your own sound, but now they've gone for excessive notes."
I called David Murray in Paris to get his views on this session, which is the most continually exciting and compelling that I've heard in a long time.
I mentioned the quote at the start of these notes, and he said, "I had to get a signature sound before I could embrace someone like Coltrane."
Coltrane - like Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker was so towering a jazz creator that he influenced untold numbers of musicians on every instrument. So, doing a set of Coltrane songs, arranged and played with his own style and sound, was a challenge to Murray to say the least.
When he was first coming up in jazz, at fourteen or fifteen, nearly all of Murray's contemporaries were immersed in Coltrane; but says Murray, "I was going in a different direction - Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Paul Gonsalves, Lucky Thompson."
He was certainly aware of, and impressed by, Coltrane; and a couple of years ago, Murray - wanting to challenge himself "to the max," as he puts it, began to focus intensely on Coltrane's work.
"I was looking for music that had a lot of energy for me to practice with. I admired his songs, his arrangements, his technique, the tempos he chose. But to do this recording, I did not want to just copy him. The writing, the playing, had to have my signature."
But everything Murray does is clearly recognizable as his. The result is both a tribute to Trane and to Murray and his colleagues. As I told Murray, everybody on the date seemed fully up for it, plunging vigorously into the universe that Murray and Coltrane created.
This Octet, which augurs new directions for small combos, is composed of Ravi Best (trumpet), Craig Harris (trombone), Rasul Siddik (trumpet), James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute), D.D. Jackson (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass) and Mark Johnson (drums.)
What struck me was not only the enthusiasm of the ensemble playing but also the freshness of Murray's writing which propelled the players to put more of themselves into the notes.
In "Giants Steps," for instance, David Murray orchestrated Coltrane's original solo for the ensemble, from which the solos burst forth organically from that richly personal context.
When this group played the Iridium in New York there was a standing ovation when "Giant Steps" concluded. That tumultuous reaction was also, of course, for John Coltrane.
David Murray, throughout his career, has constantly exemplified what Whitney Balliett once described as the essence of jazz - "the sound of surprise." His sound can be so huge that, as used to be with Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, he doesn't need a microphone. And, while his harmonic textures and venturesome rhythmic designs are individually modern, and then some, he is also capable of deeply felt romanticism.
Jimmy Giuffre once said of John Coltrane: "I began to understand that his statements on his horn were as if he was standing naked on the stage - the music coming directly from the man, not the horn.
Later I heard hundreds of other tenor players emulating him, copying him note for note. Sometimes I feel like saying, there is only one John Coltrane; you should listen and learn from him and otherwise let him be."
David Murray, having listened, with his customary thoroughness and intensity, to Coltrane, has paid him a tribute here that Coltrane would appreciate because Murray's music, as always, comes directly from himself, and Trane prized honesty and depth of individual feeling.
Alice Coltrane said of John: "He never stopped surprising himself." That can also be said of David Murray.