Sunny Murray 1936-2017

gurn! churn! burn!

Weasel Walter & Kikanju Baku reflect on the recent death of a cult sentinel of ‘The New Music’ golden era/extreme conflag free megrim hysteria:

WW: This is the first moment I’ve had to address the recent passing of legendary musician Sunny Murray with any depth. A lot of things come to mind on this topic. To the best of my memory, I believe I first heard his drumming on the 1965 Albert Ayler live recording “Holy Ghost”, buried in a cheapo used triple lp Impulse! Records sampler circa 1988. I was already interested in Ayler, but his records were fairly difficult to come by at that point in history, automatically making the rare first hearing of this piece a pivotal event. “Holy Ghost” remains one of the single most influential recordings of music to me, a succinct masterpiece of minimalistic form, iconoclastic fury and pathos. Murray’s performance on this track was brazenly distinctive, a constant wash of cymbal texture punctuated erratically by loud repetitive hammering stabs of snare drum and underlined by his own wordless, sustained gutteral moans. The unconventional use of his role to simultaneously create propulsion and disruption still stands as a gamechanger for the deployment of percussion in western music. Of course, I studied his work from that point on, both on recordings and in reference books. The conclusion is that he consistently retooled his musical approach, always remaining true to his great sense of individuality. Overviewing Murray’s ouevre across the early ’60s Cecil Taylor recordings, the diverse BYG sessions, his classic ESP-Disk album as a leader, as accompaniest to Albert Ayler, his showstealing performance on “Jump Up/What To Do About It” with Jimmy Lyons and John Lindberg, to his obscure later work, Sunny Murray’s devotion to reinventing his concept and technique was radical, intuitive and daring. From numerous anecdotes, including those of direct witnesses and peers, Murray was a complicated guy, capable of both great sensitivity and humor as well as pettiness and cruelty. In light of current events, we must remember that hardly anybody on this plane is morally perfect. We are humans and we are all capable of weakness, hypocrisy and mistakes. Many of us are just trying to deal with the trauma and abuse that have been put on us by others. The Sunny Murray I am paying tribute to was a revolutionary artist who took great artistic chances and tried to survive a paradigm that was only occasionally supportive of his work. If you respect artists, please, while they are still alive, pay for their output, proselytize to your friends about them, write them a letter of thanks, take them out to dinner, whatever. Don’t take artists for granted. Help try to lessen the bitterness that seems to come to so many who devote their lives to trying to improve society with living art. “Liking” somebody’s death on Facebook doesn’t do shit. I’m in Berlin, getting ready to fucking slay like my life depends on it, because it does. OUT.

-(Weasel Walter).

KB: ah man! there goes Sunny Murray at 81! I had a real fondness for this lunatic & he was a strident specialty that stood out like a bad accident. one of the hardest & most disorderly “New Music” recordings in history was ‘antagonized’ into eruption by Murray, – 1969’s (previously reviewed) “Sunshine” session, which garnered the volcanism of Roscoe Mitchell-Archie Shepp-Lester Bowie as well as the mysteriously obscure & beyond-bat-shit Kenneth Terroade. It’s a classic that’s still billowing smoke close to a half-century after detonation. It wasn’t necessarily Murrays percussive blitz that stole the show, but as a catalyzer, ring-leader & ‘demarcater’ if you will, he urged, orchestrated & insisted on a certain amount of balls, hostility & chaos that superseded pretty much all of his peers. His music/recordings where absolutely sodden with revolutionary fervor (the dangerous type). The energy & ethos was very daring, radical, uncompromising & uncomfortable. Despite plenty of positivity, Sunny was from the cut, & there are plenty of pictures of him in those signature shades (anti-fog resin?) hunched over the drums looking like a heavy out of a Sin City yarn or some such. I am not necessarily saying it was desirable, – but plenty of his music has a darkness & threat that is uncharacteristic of the overwhelming majority of Avant/Free-Jazz performers of the era. He also exercised a keen & clearly deliberate “lack of finesse”, if not a great relishing in its vandalization, or at least – extreme contortion & manhandling. It’s not that Murray “couldn’t play” but that he was an ardent extremist in a very literal sense. For those that can be bothered to distinguish & micro-scrutinize (& it’s easy to miss), there are some tech savvy, dexterous & imaginative floridities submerged in the turbulence that denote both skill & deliberation. A lot of his recordings are just a racket. A mess. Ugly, chaotic, raging & absurdly intense. He basically just marathon-blasts with weird punctuations & dislocated fills as the ultimate foundation for the horn-nova’s he would conscript. His dual-blast cymbal work created an almost harsh-noise, wall of noise dissonance, a distemperous, remorseless clarion of solid blat & harsh-hostility, & this is the sixties!!! I think that the pursuit of intensity & eagerness of revolutionary zeal expressed by physicality through instrumental exertion (fuck! I sound like an academic now!) led naturally to this “noise” offensive. Sonny Sharrock is another sonic extremist who was extraordinarily ahead of his time & “broke” into the territory decades before it was open to public access or listed officially as a niche musical index. The slew of bands that emerged at the tail-end of the 70’s through 80’s who had better access to distortion & would site influence from Punk, had nowhere even close to the intensity, originality or authenticity of Murray, & had a lazy, diluted attitude & rhetoric that seemed more concerned with the impudence of playing a technically proficient genre renowned for it’s virtuosity – ‘like shit!’ or with irreverence, & with a now accessible/established “punk” attitude (including the pathetic “Last Exit” which Sharrock was a member of). Plenty of Sunny’s recordings, for me, don’t work! & some of his playing is awkward & totally unappealing to my personal tastes – but, his/the originality & temerity are almost always evident & powerful, & these are very precious & rare ingredients that warrant considerable respect. He was an absolute maverick, without apology or compromise (not enough of these). Bluiett told me that he left the US (emigrating to France) as he felt he was undervalued & that mf’s were taking the piss. That’s not difficult to envisage. I can’t imagine him sitting comfortably next to the shrink-wrapped shits in the industry either, which probably prompted seclusion & contention in all mannerisms. Hopefully, tons of group recordings of Murray & goons (because it’s really when he has a set of horns to strain against that shit gets thermo) tearing the cosmos a new black-hole are captured, & may somehow find their way out into the world as of now (particularly his 60’s & 70’s material which is really when the motherfucker was shredding arse). A genuine maniac with full renegade insignia.  -(Kikanju Baku).