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Sunny Murray 1936–2017

Drummer Sunny Murray died on 7 December 2017 in Paris. He was 81 years old and had lived in the city since the mid-1990s. Obituary by Phil Freeman

Born in Idabel, Oklahoma in 1936, Murray grew up in Philadelphia and moved to New York at 19. He didn’t even have his own drum kit at first, but claimed to have taken possession of one left behind after a police raid on an after-hours club. Murray played in bebop and hard bop groups, sitting in with players like Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean and James Moody. But everything changed in 1959 when he became Cecil Taylor’s neighbour.

The two men began practicing “for about a year, just the two of us together, every day, six, seven, eight hours a day, everything from “Love For Sale” to “Zip”,” Murray told writer Dan Warburton in a 2000 interview. “[Taylor] was trying to make his mind up which way he wanted his music to go, it seemed to me. It was a period of change for us both…we needed each other in a sense, because Dennis [Charles], who was his drummer at the time, had taken his expression of Cecil’s music up to a point, and I listened to the records they’d made, and I thought ‘Wow, Den, just a little bit more there, and you’d be right on it!’”

Taylor and Murray worked together from 1960 to about 1963; in 1962, they went on a Scandinavian tour, during which the live album Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come was recorded. It was during that trip that Murray met his next crucial creative partner, saxophonist Albert Ayler. In 1964, when Ayler had made it to New York, he sought out Murray. “Of course I turned him on to everybody, we did a couple of gigs, and then we met this guy Bernard Stollman,” Murray told Warburton. Stollman released Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, Bells, Prophecy, and Spirits Rejoice on his ESP-Disk' label in the space of two years. Murray made his debut as a leader, 1965’s Sonny’s Time Now, for Amiri Baraka’s Jihad label, with Ayler, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassists Henry Grimes and Lewis Worrell, and Baraka reading on “Black Art.” His first self-titled album was recorded in 1966, for ESP-Disk'.

In those early years, from 1960–65, Murray’s ability to break down bar lines and go from bebop timekeeping to creating an amorphous, pulsing rhythm (with just snare, kick and a couple of cymbals – he never liked toms, and avoided using them whenever possible) was crucial to the development of free jazz. His work behind the kit was as important as Ayler’s on saxophone or Taylor’s on piano. He could play with overwhelming force, or dance softly on the cymbals in order to create a constant splashing sound like a waterfall; he spoke at times of wanting to evoke natural sounds like thunder and volcanoes. He sometimes moaned as he played, giving the music an even greater rawness and humanity.

In his book Black Music, Baraka wrote of Murray that he “lunges and floats over the drums and cymbals striking, near-striking, brushing, missing, caressing all the sound surfaces, while accompanying himself with a deep wailing that cuts deep into the flesh…The drums surprise and hide and are subtle, or suddenly thunderous…The drum ‘line’ swoops, is loud, is soft and sometimes seems to disappear, as well. But it is a total drum music Murray makes, not just ear-deafening ‘accompaniment’.”

Each of the great free jazz drummers – Murray, Rashied Ali, Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves – took a unique approach to the challenges posed by the music. Murray’s was to drive the band (or his partner, as he frequently recorded in duo situations) not through strict rhythm, but through a series of linked explosions, which arrived unexpectedly and yet felt thoroughly logical and natural. As Robert Wyatt put it in the 2008 documentary Sunny’s Time Now “it’s a wonderful thing, the way he plays. It’s like films of the sea where you can see the tide coming in. There’s a kind of surging to it, but it’s not metronomic and it struck me as really, really organic. And it had a momentum to it. It was jazz because it had that momentum, and the pulse, but it wasn’t identifiable in terms of the normal geometric patterns of jazz. And I found it really moving – like a cross between the wind and someone actually breathing, as if nature was a living, breathing thing through him.”

In 1969 Murray was part of the great free jazz migration to Paris; the three albums he recorded for the BYG Actuel label, Sunshine, An Even Break (Never Give A Sucker) and Hommage To Africa, are among his greatest works as a leader. His compositions had a shimmering quality and an emotional range far beyond superficial rage; even when the horns (he favoured paired saxophones) were wailing like sirens and he was smashing the cymbals, there was a looseness and humanity. Hommage To Africa, possibly his masterpiece, is dominated by a meditative suite featuring flutes, hand percussion and singing. Murray also played on Dave Burrell’s Echo, Archie Shepp’s Yasmina, A Black Woman, Black Gipsy and Live At The Pan-African Festival, and Clifford Thornton’s Ketchaoua during this period, as well as a second self-titled album for Shandar, documenting a live performance on France’s ORTF radio.

In the 1970s Murray returned to America and formed the band Untouchable Factor, that recorded two relatively hard-to-find albums, 1977’s Charred Earth and 1978’s Apple Cores. They also contributed two tracks – a rawboned version of “Over the Rainbow” and the 17-minute “Something’s Cookin’” – to the first and last volumes of the Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions compilations. In a 1978 interview with Cadence magazine, Murray claimed Apple Cores was one of his favourite albums; he called it “a kind of happy album. An album I can play on my lighter moments of life.” In the same interview, he said, “I try not to be stylized, my style is a changing style and I must keep that up until I’m too old to really stop that. I want to have a kind of home brewed, grown way, to express my way to people so they are able to feel some of me in them.”

In 1980, Murray reunited with Cecil Taylor for the staggering It Is In The Brewing Luminous, and recorded Jump Up, a trio performance with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and bassist John Lindberg. In the 1990s and 2000s, he played in duos with saxophonists Charles Gayle, Sabir Mateen and Arthur Doyle (the albums Illuminators, We Are Not At The Opera, and Dawn Of A New Vibration, are all worth seeking out), and made an album with the Philadelphia-based Sonic Liberation Front, a group that blends free jazz with Afro-Cuban and Yoruba musical concepts.

Murray was irascible and relentlessly hostile to record labels he felt had cheated him and other free jazz musicians; he fought with Bernard Stollman and BYG’s founders for decades, eventually reconciling with the former but never the latter. But Michael Ehlers of Eremite, who made three albums with him and reissued 1969’s rare and long out of print Big Chief on vinyl, says, “It’s like the William Carlos Williams line that [critic] Robert Palmer used to describe the Ayler brothers, ‘the pure products of America go crazy.’ Jazz is so many things, and it’s incredible and beautiful that Sunny made a place in it and made such a fascinating contribution.”

Still, Murray frequently expressed a feeling of being left behind by history. In his interview with Warburton, he said, “I feel in some way the system refuses to let the new generation hear me, because I could become a force as a drummer, not as a rich one, but as a real direction for young drummers to follow to be good creative drummers instead of just listening to each other all the time. For me it’s like the Mona Lisa painting in the Louvre…there’s a million prints but you have to go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. That’s how I feel about me and all the other drummers. OK, they listen to Max [Roach] as the father of bebop, to Elvin [Jones] the father of swing, but when it comes to avant-garde there’s no father figure…The young cats look at me kinda strange, like I don’t exist. But I’m there. And when I play they know I exist, and it leaves a space when I go.”

YoshimiO, Susie Ibarra and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe announce collaborative debut Flower Of Sulphur

Thrill Jockey will release a live album by the trio in February 2018

YoshimiO, Susie Ibarra and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe are set to release their debut album as a trio next year. Flower Of Sulphur is a live recording of an improvised performance which took place in New York on 9 December 2016 – the first time the three had appeared on stage at the same time.

“We had all performed in different configurations before but never as a trio,” explains Ibarra. “I think actually I have met each of YoshimiO and Robert at different times when collaborating on larger works with Tarek Atoui… I was very happy with the prospect to play a trio concert, as I could imagine the sonic palette could be very interesting, being that we each come from different aesthetic backgrounds but enjoy crossing into various sonic territories.”

Flower Of Sulphur will be released on Thrill Jockey on 23 February 2018, with artwork by Ooido Syoujou, who recently design the sleeve of YoshimiO's Saicobab release Sab Se Purani Bab. The album will be available on CD and LP with a limited opaque lavender vinyl edition.

Updated: 11 December 2017. The article originally stated that the trio are called Flower Of Sulphur. This is incorrect.

Anthony Braxton to play at Cafe Oto in 2018

The East London music venue hosts the saxophonist and composer’s three day run including his ZIM Sextet

London Dalston’s Cafe Oto will present Anthony Braxton in a three day residency next year. Taking place between 28–30 May, he'll be bringing his ZIM Sextet featuring himself on reeds, Taylor Ho Bynum on brass, Tomeka Reid on cello, Brandee Younger and Jacqueline Kerrod on harp, and Dan Peck on tuba.

“Ever since Cafe Oto first opened its doors in 2008, Anthony Braxton has been up at the top of the list of people we wanted to host here,” state the venue. “One of the fundamental figures in the music of the late 20th century, his work as a saxophonist and composer has set trailblazing precedents by tapping into and expanding new conceptual and instrumental possibilities. To this day, Braxton remains a towering force in new music and we're over the moon to welcome him to OTO for three very special nights.”

Tickets are available now to members for £38 per night or £100 for the full three days. Remaining tickets will go on sale to the general public on 8 December. Price £42/£120 in advance.

Open call for Nightlife Residency in Beijing

I: project space, China Residencies and underground Beijing party crew The Neighbourhood are looking for artists to lead “the discourses on and fusion of visual art and nightclub culture" in the Chinese capital in 2018. By Josh Feola

This Nightlife Residency is currently seeking “DJs, producers, artists, and performers to work in Beijing for a fully funded two month residency in February and March 2018, in the ever growing and increasingly idiosyncratic nightclub and electronic music communities in Beijing and China”.

Factors like incessant urban redevelopment and incremental ideological tightening have put a damper on underground after-hours affairs in the Chinese capital over the last few years. Nevertheless, there remains a vibrant class of DJs, producers and visual artists percolating through Beijing’s nightlife scene, and a recently launched project aims to catalyse this latent energy while introducing an international element into the mix. Beijing gallery and residency I: project space, international nonprofit China Residencies and local DJ crew The Neighbourhood have teamed up to offer a two month Nightlife Residency in February and March 2018 in Beijing.

For I: project space, the residency is an outgrowth of cross-disciplinary interests that have seen founders Antonie Angerer and Anna Eschbach engage more and more with Beijing’s club scene. “We see club culture as a super important starting point and breeding ground for art in general, and wanted to do something with the community in Beijing,” they say. Over the last two years, they have hosted talks and performances for figures straddling the international art and club worlds, Juliana Huxtable and Elysia Crampton among them.

One person that I: project space has worked with in this capacity is Lhaga Koondhor, co-organiser of Zurich venue House Of Mixed Emotions and an artist and DJ who performs under the name Asian Eyez. Koondhor completed her first China tour in 2016, and relocated permanently in March. “I was ready to get out of my safe zone, to be inspired by a new, rapid-changing environment, to be challenged by a new language and to learn myself better,” she says. “I knew my next step would be China, since I'm coming from a Tibetan diaspora, and wanted to give this past a new path with no boundaries and new connections and relations through music.”

Over the summer, Koondhor connected with Tom Mouna, a British DJ and writer who has lived in China since 2015. After noting a shared taste in music and a desire to use this to build new relationships at the underground community level, the two formed The Neighbourhood “to connect with people who are serious about nightclubs and electronic music as spaces worthy of investigation”, according to Mouna. He continues, “Advanced visual elements, discussions, workshops, lectures and experiments beyond the norm are all things that we are aiming to move towards, and this nightlife residency is a prime example of this.”

China Residencies, a nonprofit set-up that maintains a network of artist residencies and cultural spaces across China and Hong Kong, acts as the glue holding this initiative together, providing crucial logistical and funding support. “We’re glad to be able to provide time, space, money and support to DJs, VJs, producers, performers, and artists drawn to nightlife,” says director and co-founder Kira Simon-Kennedy. “No one seems to have explicitly been supporting this kind of work.”

This year, the chosen resident will receive a round-trip flight to Beijing, two months’ accommodation and workspace, a US $1000 stipend, introductions to local collaborators, project support from three supporting organisations and access to events including open studios, resident nights at nightclubs, and spaces to perform or exhibit across Beijing.

Interested parties can apply at the China Residencies website.

Borderline return with The Wire's 50 Releases of the Year 2017

Over three shows Freies Radio Kassel will broadcast a countdown of our Top 50 of 2017

A countdown of The Wire’s Top 50 releases of the year for 2017 (which can be found in our upcoming January 2018 Rewind edition) will be broadcast over the Christmas and New Year period during three special editions of the Borderline: Musik Für Grenzgänger show on Germany’s Freies Radio Kassel. The shows will be broadcast at 7pm local time on 15 and 22 December, and 29 January, with each show repeated at 11am the following day. If you live in the Northesse region of Germany you can tune in on 105.8 FM. For everyone else, the shows are streamed live.

Charles Duvelle of the Ocora label has died

French pianist, field recordist and musicologist died on 29 November in Paris

Charles Duvelle died in Paris on 29 November, it’s been reported by Le Monde. A pianist, recordist and photographer, Duvelle ran the Ocora label for much of the 1960s and 70s and undertook some of its most ambitious recording expeditions in the early 60s.

Born in 1937 in Paris, he spent his childhood in South East Asia, and returned to France to study piano at Conservatoire De Paris. In 1959 he began work at Pierre Schaeffer's Société De Radiodiffusion De La France D'Outre-Mer or SORAFOM, a colonial broadcasting service that worked across Francophone Africa. "I discovered a lot of tapes [...] Music, too,” Duvelle said of his early years at SORAFOM in a recent interview for Sublime Frequencies. “Very badly recorded, but to me completely new and full of originality. This was real modern music! This was my real discovery of the world’s contemporary music, and not only that of the Western world.” SORAFOM was later renamed Office De Coopération Radiophonique, aka Ocora, and Duvelle would later take on running its record label, specialising in recordings of traditional music.

Duvelle had previously recorded classical and jazz, but in the early 1960s he worked outside Europe for the time, with a recording trip to Niger. Later expeditions to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Madagascar followed. His recordings and photography were the subject of a recent Sublime Frequencies book, The Photographs Of Charles Duvelle: Disques Ocora And Collection Prophet, which included an extensive interview with Hisham Mayet.

In the mid-1970s Duvelle moved to the US, before later returning to France, and in 1998 undertook a new series of archive recordings from Benin, Papua New Guinea, Niger, Mauritania, Congo, Burkina Faso and elsewhere under the title Prophet.

PTP releases benefit album for Puerto Rico, King Vision Ultra shares exclusive non-album track

The 27 track compilation features tracks from the New York label's roster including Bonaventure, Eaves, Celestial Trax, and more

PTP has released a digital compilation titled Shine in aid of Puerto Rico following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria. The album runs to 27 tracks, 11 of which are unreleased, and includes contributions from various members of the PTP crew and extended family plus bonus remixes (previously available only on physical formats) by the likes of Ziúr, Y1640, Endgame, x/o, City, and more.

Shine is available to stream and download via PTP's Bandcamp page. All proceeds will go to Operation Time To Shine: Puerto Rico Relief Effort. This initiative was started by Derrick Cruz in the wake of Hurricane Maria. It has since earned almost $19,000 via Facebook donations and recently garnered the support of other larger rescue and government organisations. The operation also has a donation page on youcaring.com and a Bitcoin wallet.

One of the contributors to the compilation, King Vision Ultra – aka PTP founder Geng – will release their debut album Pain Of Mind via Ascetic House in early 2018. Geng describes the album as "a rugged medley informed both by interlude-filled, classic hiphop albums I grew up with (ie those by Public Enemy, Wu Tang, Gravediggaz, Beastie Boys, Gang Starr, etc) and the emotional heft of doom metal. It kinda plays out like a radio drama". Ahead of the album's release The Wire presents a non-album KVU track and video titled "Grey". Watch and listen here:

The Wire Rewind app

This month, readers of The Wire can download a custom built app to transform the cover of the new January issue into a unique audiovisual experience

The Wire Rewind app uses augmented reality to totally transform the cover of The Wire's January issue. Readers just have to download the free app, then point their phone’s camera at the cover to experience extra dimensions of sound and graphic design – and the more they explore the more they will discover multiple different combinations of 3D images and multichannel audio.

The Wire's Rewind 2017 cover was designed by Ben Weaver Studio, with sound by artist Patrick Ward. The Wire Rewind app has been developed specially for the issue by Tibor Udvari and Philippe Karrer of Spheres Studio.

Readers can download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play by searching for “Wire Rewind”. They can also use the app to record and share their journeys through this combined experiment in graphic design and sound art.

More details and information on the project here.

The January issue of The Wire contains Rewind 2017, the magazine's review of the last 12 months in underground sound and music. From the releases of the year to the reflections and analyses of a host of musicians and critics, it is the essential guide to the audio culture highs and lows of the year.

The January issue of The Wire is on sale from 7 December. Subscribers can read it online from 5 December.

See the cover and preorder.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge leukemia fund set up

The Psychic TV founder and ex-Throbbing Gristle member, who was diagnosed with cancer in October, requires money for medical equipment and rent

Following a recent diagnosis of leukemia, a crowdfunding campaign has been launched to help Genesis Breyer P-Orridge with financial difficulties.

“Having cancelled their upcoming tour with PTV3, they are flat broke, three months behind on rent, and undergoing chemo and constant testing,” says the fundraising page. “Gen is on oxygen, and unable to do much beyond getting to the hospital.

“The money they say will go toward the rental of medical equipment such as a portable oxygen condenser as well as “herbs and nutrients that aren't covered under Medicaid””.

At the time of writing the fund has raised $33,276. Donation can be made via gofundme.com.

Charlemagne Palestine pays tribute to Tony Conrad

The veteran minimalist records a new release on what would have been Conrad's 77th birthday

In memory of the late Tony Conrad, friend and collaborator Charlemagne Palestine has returned to the site of their first meeting, Saint Thomas Church in New York, to pay tribute to the composer and avant garde film maker on what would have been his 77th birthday.

The pair met at the church at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan, where Palestine worked as a carillonneur from 1963–1970. As well as operating the 26 bell carillon for the church's daily hymns, Palestine would also perform improvised sessions which attracted many visitors, one of which was Conrad, who at that point lived in Times Square. It was at the church that they would start recording together.

On 7 March 2017, Palestine returned to the bell tower and recorded STTT THOMASSS ‘’’’”’”DINGGGDONGGGDINGGGzzzzzzz ferrrr TONYYY’’’’’’’’ which will be released on cassette on 8 December by Blank Forms Editions.