Among the most recorded jazz musicians in history and arguably one of the genre's greatest tenor saxophonists, Dave Murray dominated jazz in the 1980s as thoroughly as Charlie Parker dominated the genre in the 1940s. Murray, considered a giant of the avant-garde style, nonetheless played all forms of jazz, from straight-ahead to free improvisational to post-bop. He was devoted to saxophonists as conservative as Paul Gonsalves and as radical as Albert Ayler. Murray developed a distinct and powerful personal voice on both the tenor saxophone and clarinet.. Regardless of his well-deserved recognition, Murray never broke from the downtown scene and refused to let the jazz culture assign him to a single category. Composing enchanting melodies that flowed with ease into far-reaching abstraction before returning back to the music's roots in blues and gospel, Murray is also known for his trademark playing technique of sudden leaps into the upper register of his instrument, and his ability to draw a rich, expansive sound from his horn on both ballads and upbeat numbers.
'Lucky Four' is a smooth and luscious quartet date with Murray in the company of longtime associate Dave Burrell, bassist Wilber Morris, and drummer Victor Lewis. With the exception of a short piece by his manager Kunle Mwanga, all of the pieces are by either Burrell or Morris, and most of them are gems. Sinuous and bluesy, with a rich interplay of rhythms and melodies, they are the ideal platform for a soloist like Murray: grounded enough to keep him from straying too far but deep enough for him to find plenty of goodies to unearth. Morris' "Chazz," dedicated to Charles Mingus, recalls the master with accuracy and affection, giving Murray a shot to wield his bass clarinet in homage to Dolphy and allowing the composer his own heartfelt homage. The highlight of the session is Burrell's wonderful composition, "Abel's Blissed Out Blues," a piece Murray would record often and an extremely infectious number. It begins with a moody, slow section and launches into an exuberant two-step that catapults Murray skyward with the rhythm section rocking away beneath. Two songs are given the repeat treatment, and they're enjoyable enough to make the exercise worthwhile. The late '80s produced some of Murray's strongest work in the quartet format, and Lucky Four fits in quite comfortably. Recommended.