SUNNY MURRAY

Sunshine & An Even Break (never give a sucker)
Fuel 2000 Records 302 061 215 2

Potentially the time when Energy music of both the American and European varieties reached the zenith of acceptance, 1969 was also unique because it suddenly seemed that the very fabric of society was ripping apart.

Riots were commonplace on both continents. Radicalized students were staging sometimes-violent demonstrations to demand more liberalized education processes and to protest against local repression and the war in Viet Nam. Fringe groups had turned to kidnapping, bomb throwing and arson in Europe, while in the U.S., the Black Power Movement had moved into its short-lived, so-called revolutionary phrase.

Articulate American provocateur/musicians, including members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) and especially poet Amiri Baraka and tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp were making incendiary statements. And in Paris newly created BYG/Actuel records was attempting to get as many of the new avant gardists on tape.

Looking back from the 21st Century, many of the actions seem futile, as they encouraged greater repression and the election of right wing governments. Many of the so-called generational spokespeople retreated into business or academe, including Shepp and jazz then sought refuge in fusion and neo-conservatism.

Yet some fine CDs were made at that time, including, very definitely this one. Already known because of his association with pianist Cecil Taylor and tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler, drummer Sunny Murray’s first LP had been recorded under the aegis of Baraka and he was playing Europe his band in 1969. Combing two LPs on one CD, this disc features the drummer’s regular combo augmented by guests.

The most ferocious — and longest — performance comes on “Flower Trane”, which adds the AEC’s trumpeter Lester Bowie and alto saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, plus alto saxophonist Arthur Jones and Shepp to Murray’s group. It’s a dense, snaky, highly rhythmic assault, built on the dual bass strength of Alan Silva and the AEC’s Malachi Favors plus the drummer’s cymbal splashes and snare pulse. With the horns playing screaming, off-kilter multiphonics practically in unison, despite the line-up, no single reed-bleater stands out. It does show however that “Ascension”-like group improvisations work.

Free of the visitors and goosed by Murray’s kit and Favors’ boomeranging 4/4-time invention, little-known Jamaican tenor saxophonist Kenneth Terroade turns out some memorable reed-biting smears and cries here. “Red Cross” — not the Charlie Parker tune — features more musicians as well, with individual saxophone lines — most prominently Shepp’s avant-mainstream tenor — and Bowie screeching trumpet, combining, splitting and leaping up and down the octaves.

Somewhat more cleanly recorded, the remaining numbers find Philadelphia reedman Byard Lancaster joining Terroade, Favors and Murray. Using both whirling saxes as backing ballast and point makers while exhibiting his percussion collection, Murray intones a portentous Black Nationalist poem on “An Even Break” very much under Baraka’s baleful influence.

With Lancaster screaming in ear-bleeding register and Terroade honking on his instrument’s bottom keys, the saxes construct extended smeary countermelodies on “Giblets - Part 12”. But even Favors’ virtuostic bass thump can’t disguise the tune’s origin as a simple R&B style riff. Resembling Ornette Coleman’s folksy material as well as AEC sound experiments, the final tunes work the same groove, with heads that reappear throughout, unison horn lines and an overall sound and sliding motion very much of their time.

Not the best example of Energy music in existence, this CD still offers up a hearty slice of 1969 free jazz played by some of its most accomplished practitioners, especially the still active, but under-recorded Murray.

Now, if somebody could only locate saxophonist Terroade, who was rumored to have returned to Jamaica in the early 1970s. If he’s still with us, it would be interesting to hear how his musical conception has evolved.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Flower Trane*#+ 2. Real; 3. Red Cross+#*; 4. An Even Break&%; 5. Giblets - Part 12% 7. Complete Affection% 8. Invisible Rules%

Personnel: Lester Bowie (trumpet)*; Arthur Jones+, Roscoe Mitchell+ (alto saxophones); Byard Lancaster (soprano and alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute)%; Archie Shepp*, Kenneth Terroade (tenor saxophone, flute); Dave Burrell (piano)#; Alan Silva*, Malachi Favors (bass); Sunny Murray (drums, balafon and poetry reading&)