September 23, 2007

Sunny Murray – Sunny’s Time Now

Filed under: Hype,Music — RadioFly @ 2:48 pm

[Jihad; 1965]

Despite the (misspelled) claim of this record’s title, it has unfortunately never really been Sunny Murray’s time. In the annals of avant-garde jazz lore, drummers are all-too-often ignored and Murray is no exception, despite the all-star company he kept. Sunny’s Time Now shows off not only that company, but also how powerful Murray’s music can be.

The musicians joining Murray for this session are Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Henry Grimes, and Louis Worrrell. Powerful though those names are, they don’t even begin to tell the story for Sunny’s Time Now, a record that is uniquely chaotic and anarchic even in the chaotic, anarchic world of free jazz. On this outing, these five men make even Coleman’s Free Jazz seem claustrophobic by comparison. Indeed, there are no blues to be found here from Ayler, nor are any of Cherry’s African elements evident. Nonetheless, that pair deliver some positively unearthly duets, most notably on “Virtue” and “Justice,” the latter being the record’s strongest song. Cherry may not be a match for Ayler from a technical standpoint, but his inspired, creative playing pushes Ayler to new heights while managing to match the primal tenor note for discordant note.

On initial listens, Ayler understandably seems to dominate the record. The mere thought of Ayler being even more squalling than usual is enough to grab any jazz listener’s attention. Hearing it actually put into action is simply awe-inspiring. Just as awe-inspiring, if nowhere near as obvious, however, is Murray’s drumming. There’s no simple time-keeping to be found here from Murray, with his drumming sounding more like an avalanche wreaking havoc along with the thunderstorm that is Ayler and Cherry.

This album has received some criticism for LeRoi Jones’s reading on its penultimate track, “Black Art.” Regardless of what you think of the supposedly anti-semitic content, the raw anger and stark imagery of the poetry is unequivocally moving. Meanwhile, Murray abandons his role as avalanche behind the reading, instead providing subtle drumming that matches the reading in intensity. The periodic squawking from Ayler and Cherry adds an unsettling air to the piece. The final cut, “The Lie,” matches “Black Art” in ferocity without the benefit of words.

Sunny’s Time Now is as potent a document as any to come out of the New York avant-garde scene. Not only does it see Albert Ayler reach his most startling levels of primal force, but it is also the best example of a true master at work–Sunny Murray. This record is a must-hear for fans of free jazz, but be warned that it is exceedingly difficult, chaotic, and angry. This music is not to be taken lightly.

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