Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The David Murray Octet: Avant Garde & Hard Bop Soul

I have been editing a book, Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question. Blogging is what I do to unwind, so I hope my readers appreciate the frequent posts this week. If you do, go to Barnes and Noble and demand the book. It's going to be great.

David Murray's most important Avant Garde documents were the two albums he recorded with his Octet in 1980 and 81: Ming, and Home. Here is the Octet: David Murray (ts, bcl), Henry Threadgill (as), Olu Dara (tp), Lawrence "Butch" Morris (c), George Lewis (tb), Anthony Davis (p), Wilbur Morris (b), Steve McCall (perc). I got this from the following site:

Both discs are extraordinary. A lot of the music is very challenging, but there are some great cuts that fit squarely within the hardbop tradition. I am a classical theorist by training, and it spills over into my hobby time. I like to try to categorize the various jazz genres. So here goes: the difference between hard bop and avant garde (or free jazz) turns on the relationship between melody and improvisation. If melody governs improvisation but the improve is very robust, it's hard bop. If the melody is only something to be analyzed and exploited, or even used as an excuse for random experimentation, it's avant garde.

Here's an experiment: compare these two numbers. The first is from Murray's recording The Hill. There is a version of it on Ming as well, but it's longer. The second is from Home. It is classic jazz. So I am confused. I am also delighted.

David Murray/The Hill/The Hill

David Murray/The Last of the Hipmen/Home

'The Hill' is interesting, which is a little like saying that a prospective date has a nice personality. 'The Last of the Hipmen" is someone you can spend time with.

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