Looking back on them, the seven or eight years I spent hosting and producing programs at Canada's oldest campus radio station coincided with one of my favourite periods in music outside of the 1960s. My pop music shows began with the rise of punk and ended with the flowering of some enduring U.S. songwriters. My jazz program, Rabble Without A Cause—co-hosted and memorably named by my friend Don Lahey—was spiced with the rousing music created by artists like Henry Threadgill (Air), Arthur Blythe, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Lester Bowie and Ornette Coleman's Prime Time. Among our favourite, and most frequently featured, musicians was the prolific David Murray.
Murray became legendary for releasing several albums a year, and for the diversity of his bands, but I was always partial to his octet projects, in particular the albums Ming, Home and Murray's Steps. I don't particularly like brassy big bands, and the octet setting—especially when dark-toned instruments like bass clarinet are in the mix—offers a lot of interesting possibilities. Murray seemed a natural for it; using the format to convey both emotion and power. For these recordings he recruited some of the most exciting players on the burgeoning New York City loft scene, including Threadgill, pianist Anthony Davis, drummer Steve McCall, trombonists George Lewis and Craig Harris, and trumpeters Olu Dara and Butch Morris.
Anyone wanting to make the case that the '80s is a treasure trove of great acoustic jazz—and there are many who do—just has to reach for these recordings, and now that's easier to do, thanks to a new box set of all five octet CDs.