david murray | hamiet bluiett

David Murray
Hamiet Bluiett

David Murray – Hamiet Bluiett

PERFORMANCE OF DECEMBER 23, 1976 at Mapenzi, Berkeley
David Murray / tenor saxophone, flute, percussion, Hamiet Bluiett / baritone saxophone, flute, clarinet, piano.

FLOWERS FOR ALBERT India Navigation 1026
David Murray / tenor saxophone, Phillip Wilson / drums, Olu Dara / trumpet, Fred Hopkins / bass.Recorded: June 26, 1976 in concert.

David Murray / tenor saxophone, Phillip Wilson / drums, Fred Hopkins / bass. Recorded: 1976.

ENDANGERED SPECIES India Navigation 1025
Hamiet Bluiett / baritone saxophone, flute, Jumma Santos / balafon, Juney Booth / bass, Olu Dara / trumpet, Phillip Wilson / drums. Recorded: June 19, 1976 in concert.

One of the finest bands to be heard in the Bay Area in recent years was the David Murray-Butch Morris Quartet (or Quintet). The group, which featured Murray on tenor saxophone, Morris on cornet, Roberto Miranda and/or Andre St. James on bass, and Randy Moore on drums, played in a tight, post-Ornette vein and sometimes reminded a bit of the old New York Contemporary Five. Murray and Morris both contributed outstanding compositions to the group, and these were utilized within an essentially forward-moving rhythmic framework which, by the time the band dissolved, was becoming more and more open-ended.


Murray’s playing, particularly, was growing by leaps and bounds in the year or so of the group’s existence. When I first heard him, he was heavily influenced by Archie Shepp, with shades of players such as Rollins or Colemen lurking underneath, but by the time he left here for New York (in March of 1975) he was very much coming to grips with Albert Ayler. He seemed busy using what he could find wherever he could find it as a springboard toward developing his own rhythmic/harmonic language. In this respect, he seemed to me to be always an essentially rhythmic player – and a very exciting one at that – but his natural proclivity toward the “song” was just as evident, if only in certain of the tunes that he wrote. So it only made sense that he should gravitate so easily toward the work of Albert Ayler. For Ayler, as well as every other contribution he made, had taken the song as far as it could be taken and still have it remain a song.

It was Ornette Colemen, of course, who opened the song up (both the song as song and the song form utilized to contain a specifically rhythmic thrust) by freeing it from harmonic restrictions. (And if every great innovation in jazz has been an essentially rhythmic one, it was, as here, a rhythmic advance made possible only through harmonic extension.) Ayler, simply and dramatically, took the implications of Coleman’s work one giant step further (playing sounds “between” the notes and a whole range of new timbres) and in so doing not only extended/transcended the song, but suggested its complete dissolution. So that after Ayler (and the post-Ayler “energy” school) songs began to become “compositions” – what was the development of new and more far-ranging, though not necessarily harmonic, restrictions – or else gave way to total improvisation (see review of Ayler’s Prophecy for a discussion of this implication of Ayler’s music). But few players since have attempted to deal with the “song” on its own terms or to deal with it at the point it was left off by Albert Ayler.*

But this is one aspect of the music of David Murray, as evidenced on the India Navigation album or by “Low Class Conspiracy” on the Adelphi LP. And though this grows logically out of Murray’s earlier work (as heard a couple of years ago in Berkeley – and “B/T” on Low Class Conspiracy is perhaps the closest thing to that here), it is a relatively new aspect of it. His playing is as rhythmically compelling as ever, but it now unfolds – like Ayler’s – in fits and starts rather than in longer, more compressed, chunks; meaning he has begun to look between the lines as well as in the direction they are going.

His work is more songful, though, than Ayler’s but also (perhaps of necessity) less bold. But what’s interesting is that something like a song (post-Ayler, but as much a song as, say, someone like Sonny Rollins might play a song) can now so blatantly re-emerge at all and that it can exist in any open terms. Context as well as phrasing is all important and, in this regard, the textural implications of Ayler’s work have been fully drawn upon. Phillip Wilson, who half the time he plays keeps trying to hide the sound from you, is an obviously right choice on drums. And bassist Hopkins, with his dark, percussive rumblings or stringy bowed melodic work, moves alternately with and against Murray, opening and closing, defining and redefining, the song’s sense. All of which means that these are extremely attractive pieces of music, as rich in nuance, subtlety and rhythmic invention as they are songful.

The concert with Hamiet Bluiett was something else again: a closely woven interplay of various rhythmic thrusts, motivic or “mood” oriented rather than thematic in nature and interspersed with humorous asides or at times theatrical posturings. Yet this was more than any simple dramatic rendering. It was “compositional” improvisation of the highest order, meaning that the compositions were mainly rhythmic contours, always wide open (in both a vertical and a horizontal sense) demanding a close and finely tuned sensitivity of player to player. Often Bluiett provided a thick, pulsing underpinning, but he was no mere accompanist to Murray. He only offered a type of tension that might be released into some new and unexplored area. This was closely related to the form of the pieces themselves, that being an “emergent” form in which the shape of a composition emerged throughout the piece rather than being stated all at the beginning or being necessarily restated at the end; and either player at any point might be the one to set the piece off in a new direction. It was an exciting concert, then, as much for the strength of the individual players as for its putting forth some of the most advanced and probing improvisational frameworks.

David Murray Photo: John Rogers

Like Murray, Bluiett is an essentially rhythmic player and also something of a dramatist. But though the music on Endangered Species is fairly song-oriented, it might as much be said to hover between what could be referred to as a song, on the one hand, or a composition on the other. The pieces, of course, are compositions (and they are songs!), but the way in which they unfold makes them appear more like “dramatic structurings” – meaning that their conceptual components act more as starting points for (rhythmic/melodic) improvisation rather than, strictly speaking, structural determinants for the shape of them. But the pieces also lend themselves easily to textural development, being at once forward-moving constructs yet moving in ever newly defined space. Phillip Wilson is again present to assure a range of ideas and a smoothness of transition between them, and there’s some wonderfully subtle balafon work by Jumma Santos. Trumpeter Olu Dara appears on both the Bluiett and Murray albums, and he spins out strong, sharply cut flurries of sound, moving in and out of the forms of his own creation. Bluiett’s music sounds very much at times like an “older” music than Murray’s, one steeped in the earth and the seasons. That is no small part of its overall attractiveness.

Yet there are probably more similarities between the music of Bluiett and Murray than there are differences, and certainly their concert collaboration in Berkeley bore out the fact that they are extremely compatible players. Unfortunately, there’s not as yet any documentation of their duo work on record. But the LPs that are available, Bluiett’s Endangered Species and, in Murray’s case, especially Flowers For Albert, make for some good and stimulating listening.

Henry Kuntz, 1977


* Coltrane, of course – during this same period – freed the song immensely by conceiving of it in “modal” and “polytonal” terms. Yet as free as it was, it would seem to have been an essentially self-enclosed freedom which (thus) propelled itself necessarily (in artistic as well as any spiritual terms) toward a similarly self-limiting catharsis. That was its beauty, the manner in which it hovered between limitation and complete freedom. Yet, as a legacy, it’s possible it has left very little to build from, only a lot to build on.

selected David Murray recordings


selected Hamiet Bluiett recordings


David Murray biography:

David Murray (born 1955 in Oakland, California, United States) is a notable jazz musician. Murray plays mainly tenor saxophone and sometimes bass clarinet. He has recorded prolifically on a variety of labels since the mid-1970s. One critic dubbed Murray the Joyce Carol Oates of jazz, comparing Murray’s prolific and consistently highly-regarded work to the noted novelist’s.

David Murray’s use of the circular breathing technique has enabled him to play astonishingly long phrases. Murray was initially heavily influenced by free jazz musicians such as Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler. He gradually evolved a more mainstream approach in his playing and compositions. Murray set himself apart from most tenor players of his generation by not taking John Coltrane as his model, choosing instead to incorporate elements of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Paul Gonsalves into his mature style. Despite this, he recorded a tribute to Coltrane, Octet Plays Trane, in 1999. His 1996 tribute to the Grateful Dead, Dark Star, was also critically well received.

Murray was a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet with Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. He has recorded or performed with musicians such as Henry Threadgill, James Blood Ulmer, Olu Dara, Tani Tabbal, Butch Morris, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Ed Blackwell, Johnny Dyani, and Steve McCall.


Hamiet Bluiett biography:

Hamiet Bluiett (b. Brooklyn (or Lovejoy), Illinois, September 16, 1940) is an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer. His primary instrument is the baritone saxophone, and he is considered one of the finest living players of this instrument. He also plays (and records with) the bass saxophone, E-flat alto clarinet, E-flat contra-alto clarinet, and wooden flute.

Bluiett was born just north of East St. Louis in Brooklyn, Illinois (also known as Lovejoy), a predominantly African American village which had been founded as a free black community in the 1840s. As a child, he studied piano, trumpet, and clarinet, but was attracted most strongly to the baritone saxophone from the age of ten. He began his musical career by playing the clarinet for barrelhouse dances in Brooklyn, Illinois, before joining the Navy band in 1961.

In his mid-twenties, Bluiett heard Harry Carney (the baritone player in the Duke Ellington band) play in a live concert in Boston, which also made a strong impression on the young Bluiett, providing an example of a baritone saxophonist who played as soloist rather than accompanist.

In an interview with Fred Jung from the Jazz Weekly website, Bluiett explains his interest in the instrument:

FJ: What was it about the baritone that called to you?

HAMIET BLUIETT: Well, I don’t know. I didn’t even hear it. There was something about it. Like you look at somebody and you like them. I just fell in love with the instrument from the sight of it. That was it. I never forgot that it was a baritone saxophone. I always wanted to play saxophone, but I had never seen anything like a baritone. So when I heard the guy playing it, I wasn’t that impressed with what he played. It was the size of the sound because most people who play the baritone don’t approach it like the awesome instrument that it is. They approach it as if it is something docile like a servant type instrument. I don’t approach it that way. I approach it as if it was a lead voice and not necessarily here to uphold the altos, tenors, and sopranos. I think it can stand toe to toe with you like Shaquille O’Neal and take you out.

Following his time in the Navy, he returned to the St. Louis area in the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s Bluiett co-founded the Black Artists’ Group (BAG) of St. Louis, Missouri, a collective dedicated to fostering creative work in theater, visual arts, dance, poetry, film, and music. He led the BAG big band during 1968 and 1969.

Bluiett moved to New York City in the fall of 1969, where he joined the Charles Mingus Quintet and the Sam Rivers large ensemble. In 1976 he co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet (along with two other Black Artists’ Group members, Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake), which soon became jazz music’s most renowned saxophone quartet. He has remained a champion of the somewhat unwieldy baritone saxophone, organizing large groups of baritone saxophones. Since the 1990s he has led a virtuosic quartet, the Bluiett Baritone Nation, made up entirely of baritone saxophones, with drum set accompaniment. In the 1980s, he also founded The Clarinet Family, a group of eight clarinetists playing clarinets of various sizes ranging from E-flat soprano to contrabass.

Bluiett has also worked with Sam Rivers, Babatunde Olatunji, Abdullah Ibrahim, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. He returned to his hometown of Brooklyn, Illinois in 2002.


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