One of the instruments that was more affected by the conceptual revolution
of free jazz was the drums. Setting the example for others, Oklahoma-born
Jimmy "Sunny" Murray (1936), who moved to New York in 1956 and played with
Cecil Taylor in 1959-62 and with Albert Ayler in 1964-67, revolutionized the role of the drums by abandoning the traditional time-keeping role in favor of a sound-making role (mostly by cymbals and snare).
Basically the drums became percussion instruments whose role was to create
sound (and, ultimately, contribute to the polyphony) as much as any other instrument. They differed from, say, a trumpet or a saxophone only insofar as the
timbre of a wooden or metallic percussion is different from the timbre of
an instrument that had been traditionally used for melodic purposes. The fact
that melodic instruments were increasingly used to produce dissonance helped
blurred the border. Removing the time-keeping instrument constituted, of course,
a major boost to the abstraction of the music, making it even more difficult to
find traces of blues or gospel or swing or anything else in the overall
Murray's own recordings were more faithful to free jazz than most of the
pioneers of the genre:
Sunny's Time Now (november 1965), with the stellar cast of Albert Ayler, trumpeter Don Cherry and bassists Henry Grimes and Lewis Worrell unleashed in the jams Virtue and Justice;
Sunny Murray Quintet (july 1966), featuring trumpet, saxophone, bass and percussion in a side-long four-movement improvisation (Phase 1, 2, 3, 4);
Sunny Murray (december 1968), featuring saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, bass and piano;
Big Chief (january 1969), with a similar line-up;
Homage to Africa (august 1969), the manifesto of his pan-African free-jazz, with vocalist Jeanne Lee, saxophonist Archie Shepp, pianist Dave Burrell, bassist Alan Silva, Malachi Favors on balafon and two percussionists, one of his most effective ensembles ever improvising in the 17-minute Suns 0f Africa and the ten-minute R.I.P.;
Sunshine (august 1969), with the 14-minute Flower Trane performed by an ensemble with Burrell, Silva, trumpeter Lester Bowie, four saxophonists (including Roscoe Mitchell and Archie Shepp);
An Even Break (november 1969), the least exciting of the series, with two reed players and Favors on bass.
Murray later formed the Untouchable Factor in 1971, but the quartet of reeds, piano (Burrell), bass and drums was documented only years later on Charred Earth (january 1977).
The line-up clearly changed all the time, as their second album Apple Cores (january 1978) featured saxophonists (including Arthur Blythe, Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett), Don Pullen on piano, Fred Hopkins and Cecil McBee on bass, guitar, flute, and Youseff Yancy on trumpet, Flugelhorn, theremin and electronic sound effects.
During the 1980s Murray recorded many more albums with different line-ups.
Sunny Murray died in 2017 at the age of 81.
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