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David Murray Octet – Octet Plays Trane
Justin Time Records

By Chuck Obuchowski

    Octet Plays Trane obviously shifts the compositional focus to John Coltrane, but Murray’s stylistic contributions, and those of his bandmates, pump renewed vigor into jazz standards like "Lazy Bird" and "Naima." In fact, as Murray admitted to liner-note author Nat Hentoff "I had to get a signature sound before I could embrace someone like Coltrane...to do this recording, I did not want to just copy him." Wise move on David’ part—during the 1970s, many saxists were unable to forge their own voices after falling under Coltrane’s powerful spell. Astute listeners may recall Murray’s participation on Blues for Coltrane, a 1988 tribute released by Impulse Records which paired him with McCoy Tyner for several tunes; note, however, that Murray did not actually perform on any of the Coltrane compositions.
    The most impressive work on the present disc is the octet’s reading of "Acknowledgement" (part one of Coltrane’s monumental A Love Supreme suite). Its length--over fifteen minutes—may discourage radio airplay, but it deserves every serious jazz fan’s attention. Murray’s scorching solo alone, echoing but never imitating the original, is worth the price of this CD. Trombonist Craig Harris and trumpeter Rasul Saddik also get a chance to stretch out here, often with strong support from the rest of the muscular horn section. If jazz awards were given for "most recording sessions," David Murray would be a shoe-in as winner in the baby boomer division. No doubt the tenor saxophonist has difficulty keeping count of his own albums; he works in every conceivable context, from solo to big band, from soul-searching free improvisation to electric down ‘ n dirty funk. Even so, the majority of his fans would probably agree that he has made his strongest statements in the octet format. Ever since the incendiary Ming was released in 1980 by Black Saint Records, the Murray Octet has earned widespread praise for its bold improvising aesthetic as well as its leader’s groundbreaking compositions and arrangements.
    Murray’s arrangement of "India" demonstrates how much he has matured since his early attempts to structure music for larger ensembles. James Spaulding’s bass flute evokes the mystery and spiritualism of the Asian land as it weaves its way through Jaribu Shahid’s arco bass drones, D.D. Jackson’s lyrical piano accents and Mark Johnson’s rock-steady hand drum rhythms. Later, Murray’s indigo bass clarinet resonances mingle with trombone and muted trumpets, further flavoring this enticing sonic curry.
    Another bass clarinet feature deserving of mention is Murray’s own piece, "The Crossing." Here, the octet conjures up ecstatic Gospel shouts of the U.S. South and plays them against the beat of West African dance halls. What does this have to do with Coltrane? Not much, but it makes for an exuberant 10-minute joyride. And exuberance is in abundance throughout Octet Plays Trane, a very worthy addition to David Murray’s extensive discography.

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2000

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