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Sunny Murray: Perles Noires Vol. I

The man who invented free-jazz drumming some five decades ago remains as committed and uncompromising-and as ineffably great-as ever. These two releases are culled from live performances by Murray and saxophonist Sabir Mateen from 2002 and 2004. Joining them on various tracks are pianists Dave Burrell and John Blum, saxophonists Oluyemi Thomas and Louis Belogenis and bassist Alan Silva.

Mateen has long been one of my favorites. Few saxophonists are better able to act and react in the moment. He can create with only the slightest input; give Mateen a cymbal ping and he’ll use it as inspiration to construct a riveting 20-minute solo. Murray gives him a great deal more than a ping. His timbral and dynamic insights are unsurpassed among jazz percussionists. His imagination is vast, certainly-he comes at you with an unceasing flow of ideas-but what sets him apart is his total immersion in the task at hand. He gets so deep inside the music: painting rhythms around melody, inciting and elaborating. No drummer is more spontaneously inventive. None plays with a greater depth of feeling.

Of the sidemen, Mateen is best attuned to Murray, although Silva and Blum come very close. Special note should be taken of Blum. The dude is sick; he’s like a free-jazz Frank Hewitt, only much younger-a monster player shamefully ignored by the New York City critics and overlooked by the labels. He should be heard.

These albums are evidence-as if any were required-that when it comes to free-jazz drummers, he who wrote the book still gets the last word.

Originally Published