Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sunny Murray Meets Sonic Liberation Front On High Two CD

The student of the music we call jazz at some point must come to terms with the impact of the avant garde from the '60s onwards. Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, later John Coltrane, and the musicians who associated with him brought about a vast infusion of musical vocabulary and ways of speaking into improvisational practice. Looking back we can see that regardless of the rhetoric let lose in the years that followed, the innovations of these important artists have entered, in one way or another, into the music we hear today. It was a revolution in sound, in note combinations, in harmony, and in time. Sunny Murray was right there behind his drums from the very beginning, changing the function of his instrument from time keeping to time shaping, constructing beautifully loose melodies of rhythm that enabled soloists and ensembles to recreate more freely the relationship of note weaving to implied or actual pulse.

Sunny of course has continued on over the years, mostly with his own ensembles, making important music. On today's CD we find him in close collaboration with the Sonic Liberation Front [Sonic Liberation Front Meets Sunny Murray (High Two 027)] in a live session from 2002 and a studio follow-up from 2008.

This is bold and exciting new music that begins with the premise of pitting Sunny Murray's dynamic style against a battery of Afro and Afro-Latin hand drums. Joining them are Henry Lawson's tenor along with acoustic bass, cornet or trumpet, and in the 2002 session, alto sax.

It reminds a little at times of some of Archie Shepp's 1969 BYG sessions, where African percussion intertwined with jazz improvisation in a stimulating way. "Reminds" does not mean "imitates" however. The Sonic Liberation Front puts the hand percussion in motion in different ways and there is more of a give-and-take dialog going on with bass, percussion and Sunny's unique artistry. The horns play ensemble passages that further enrich the music mix, and freely solo on top of the complex of sounds.

It is a combination that works on every level--with abundant room for expansion, the development of an open-ended excitement and a truly AFRO-AMERICAN approach. A high point of the music is certainly the way the regularity of the percussion section gets a musical dialectic going with Sunny's expanded time sense. But it is a group sound, with important contributions from all in the heady mix of momentum and fire that develops.

Notch up another excellent outing for Sunny Murray. And for the Sonic Liberation Front. You get 69 minutes of adventure for your money. If that seems like a lot, break the listening session into two and the time will fly. Recommended.

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