I think of David Murray's long career in two phases: before and after Ming
(Black Saint, 1980), the breakthrough album that signalled a substantial jump in maturity as well as a move toward jazz's musical center. But such a division betrays my age. From the distance of nearly thirty years, it's obvious that much of the "early" Murraythe pinnacle of which was Flowers for Albert
(India Navigation, 1976)could be heard in the "later" Murray. This includes notably the dizzying marriage of hummable tunefulness and squeaking abstraction that led so many listeners to detect Albert Ayler in Murray's genealogy.
Another problem with the usefulness of that timeline is that post-Ming
Murray encompasses most of the multi-reedist's career. It is nevertheless remarkable to go back to that especially fruitful pre-Ming
period, and this reissue of 3D Family
provides a recording from those heady days, captured live at Willisau in September 1978. The album has been more or less widely available for many years, but it is good to have it back in the catalogue (even if "P.O. in Cairo" has been cut from the original LP release), not least because of the extraordinarily sympathetic playing of the trio's other members.
The first half of the set is slightly easier going than the second: the title track is suitably enough in a loose 3/4 time with a memorable melody. Bassist Johnny Mbizo Dyani is the rhythmic anchor, Andrew Cyrille providing ornamentation around the timekeeping. "Patricia" is a lovely ballad based on a simple melody that could have come from Ornette Coleman. The drum and bass breaks, here as on "Shout Song," are solos in the strict sense, the other trio members laying out entirely.
"In Memory of Jomo Kenyatta," untethered from any of the musical reference points that hold together the other performancesa melodic fragment, a bass ostinato, a rhythmic pulsemay be the shortest track in the set (at nine-plus minutes) but it is nonetheless the most wearing. Formally the wildest number here, it is also the most static, like the chaos of a Jackson Pollock painting flattened onto a canvas: it comes off as a long, unmodulated wail. The song's relationship to its dedicatee is interesting to ponder but ultimately as impenetrable as the piece itself.
"Shout Song" is a bit more conventional, but still fairly free in its execution. It has a simple two-step theme that sounds a little like the ingenious figure Charlie Parker used to open "All The Things You Are" (aka "Lullaby of Birdland"). The ensemble portion is affecting, Murray's overblowing echoed by Dyani's ghostly, Roma-like harmonics. The bassist's solo is long and slightly discursive, but Cyrille's is more tightly focused; both appear to be trying to echo the song's simple theme.
The relative importance of 3D Family
in the Murray canon is subject to debate; so strong is the overall quality of his work, however, that this record should surely rank among the year's best reissues.