Tenor saxophonist David Murray has recorded so many CDs during the past 20 years that it is difficult to keep up with them. This one finds him in mostly restrained form, updating the tenor/organ soul jazz tradition with Don Pullen (who sticks exclusively to organ), guitarist Stanley Franks and drummer Andrew Cyrille. The music, with the exception of some typical Murray outbursts into the extreme upper register, is generally respectful and soulful, one of Murray's mellower efforts. Unfortunately, Columbia has since ended its association with DIW so this release will be a difficult one to find.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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Shakill's Warrior, the recording you now have in your possession, represents a pairing of two of the major figures in contemporary music. David Murray for many jazz listeners is the finest tenor saxophonist of his generation and is possibly the most commanding tenor saxophonist now playing the instrument. Don Pullen likewise is seen by many as the most exciting and satisfying pianist of his generation. What makes this recording unique, however, is the fact that Pullen is not playing the piano. On this recording, Pullen is playing the much maligned Hammond B-3 Organ.
The jazz organ, first explored by Fats Waller, Count Basie and Wild Bill Davis, came into it's own with that generation of musicians that emerged in the late fifties including, Jimmy Smith, it's most influential player, Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Jimmy McGriff and a host of others. This generation of players were most popular in urban African American communities, where organ trios began to proliferate. To this day in these communities, most regularly performing jazz bands that you will encounter will have an organ player in their midst.
By the mid sixties, however, this style of playing had become old hat. Many jazz fans were wondering if there was any alternative to this commonly disparaged style of organ "grinding" popularized by Jimmy Smith.
The appearance of Larry Young (aka Khalid Yasin) on the music scene in the mid sixties brought a breath of fresh air to the now classic Hammond B-3 sound. Employing a more modern harmonic conception derived in part from the influence of John Coltrane, Young, with the albums "Unity" and "Into Something", brought younger audiences to the organ. Soon thereafter, the untimely death of Larry Young left modernists with no organ player with which to identify.
Don Pullen began performing on organ in New York city during the late seventies at Harlem nightspots. Many evenings I caught Pullen at the Rene Bar on Seventh Avenue. His organ style was spiced with some of those exhilarating swirls of sound which are so characteristic of his piano playing. In this context, one was made immediately aware of Pullen's direct lineage to the more sanctified stream of the African American religious experience. Gospel voicings are working fodder for both Pullen's organ playing and compositions. Coupled with an in depth knowledge of the many rhythms found in the African diaspora, Pullen's work, once considered avant garde, must now be reevaluated as nothing but further explorations of those basic estuaries found in the jazz mainstream: the blues, the swing tune, the romantic ballad and latin rhythms.
Like Don Pullen, David Murray draws heavily upon his sanctified roots. His use of shouts, hollors, whimpers and leaps and his gutbucket drenched tone form the basis of a fresh, personal blues vocabulary. In recent years, Murray's rapid fire attack has matured incorporating the lessons of boudoir memories and Ben Webster's breathy phrases.
The line between the sanctified and the profane has never been clear cut no matter what many of our elders have claimed. The sensuality of the blues and the heart felt fervor of the sanctified church at first blush may even appear to be indistinguishable. Such it is with the music of David Murray and Don Pullen. Don Pullen's gospel tinged ballad "In The Spirit" with it's allusions to the old spiritual "His Eyes are On The Sparrow" illustrates this point. First performed live by these two musicians at the 1991 Atlanta Jazz Festival, this composition brought sighs, moans and applause, physical responses of approval common to both blues and gospel audiences, to the audience in Atlanta's Grant Park. Murray's "Blues For Savannah" which opens this recording followed the gospel ballad that evening in Grant Park. In the park, it brought audiences to their feet shouting their approval. I am sure the compositions these artists perform in this set will elicit from listeners similar reactions. Pullen's latin tinged "At Cafe Central" and "Song from the Old Country" were both recorded earlier by a quartet he co-led with tenor saxophonist George Adams. Composer Butch Morris's "Black February" is the most adventurous piece in this set. In that tune, these artists explore freer rhythms bringing the organ quartet to new levels of rhythmic and harmonic sophistication. The title track, "Shakill's Warrior", is taken from the name of a karate school attended by Murray's son David Mingus. It is classic Murray incorporating his use of multiple melodic lines and fiery swing. The contributions of master trap drummer Andrew Cyrille with his coiled, steely colored fluidity along with the guitar work of childhood David Murray collaborator Stanley Franks, who worked with Murray in their teenage group the "Notations of Soul", cannot be ignored. All in all a very satisfying recording session from two of the seminal musicians of this or any other era.
-John H. Armwood (Atlanta, July 1991)