Five discs-39,37,40,40,43 minutes each approximately. The remastered sound is crisp and clean and open sounding. Each disc comes in it's original album cover. These are inside a fairly substantial cardboard box, which lists the album titles, players, and song titles on the rverse. There's no booklet, just whatever notes or information is on the back of each cardboard holder.
As the title states, this set contains all the albums Murray recorded with his octet group for the Black Saint/Soul Note label. This is just one of several sets they've released, in the same format, featuring other fine jazz musicians-check them out!
The two albums most jazz fans will be familiar with are "Ming" (1980) and "Home" (1981). Both albums feature some very fine musicians besides Murray-including Olu Dara-trumpet, Butch Morris-clarinet, George Lewis-trombone, Henry Threadgill-alto sax (and who has a fine box set in this series), Anthony Davis-piano, Wilbur Morris-bass, and Steve McCall-drums. All of these musicians have recorded under their own names, and/or accompanied many other jazz performers over the years.
Both the above albums are (arguably) two of the finest albums Murray ever recorded, and are certainly two of the finest albums of their era. That both albums are still revered all these years later speaks volumes about Murray, his group, and the music they recorded. Both albums are a synthesis of jazz and musical genres from previous eras. In the best of these tracks can be heard the blues, bits of straight ahead jazz, and what some consider "free form" or "outside" jazz. But don't let that put you off from hearing some of the very best jazz recorded in the 80's and, as I wrote, some of the best jazz Murray ever put down. Compositions like "The Hill", "Ming", and "Jasvan" are breath-stealing experiences, and point the way Murray was taking his music in an octet setting. For me, Murray was always at the top of his game when playing slower tunes, or when he slowed things down in otherwise faster tempo songs. Both "Ming" and "Home" have fine examples of this style.
"Murray's Steps" recorded in 1982, features Murray, Henry Threadgill-alto sax/flute, Bobby Bradford-trumpet, Butch Morris-cornet, Craig Harris-trombone, Curtis Clark-piano, Wilbur Morris-bass, and Steve McCall-percussion. This is another fine set, with the title track a combination of the blues and straight ahead jazz, and his mastery of both up tempo and slower arrangements. A good example of his slower work is "Sweet Lovely", played relatively straight forward and very prettily. All the tunes are by Murray and show his continuing skill at writing and arranging (not to mention his playing) intelligent warm compositions. Of course having a great arranger in Butch Morris doesn't hinder things either. This album is a highpoint on this set-it's both accessible yet has a flowing intelligence to it.
"New Life", from 1985, with it's big band sound and style of arrangements, is an album more jazz listeners should know about. Again, with just four longish tracks, Murray takes the band (and us) into a world of-plain and simple-high quality jazz, both in the arrangements and playing. The first track, "Train Whistle" has some fine trumpet work by Baikida Carroll or Hugh Ragin. Murray's bass clarinet is a combination of old time big band and a more forward thinking style. And the whole time that's going on the band plays some subtle grooves of their own, and when they all come together the music just about jumps out of the speakers. Other players include Craig Harris-trombone (heard to good effect in several spots),John Purcell-alto sax, Steve Colson-piano, Wilbur Morris-bass, and Ralph Peterson Jr.-drums. Together this band can play just about anything-big band, contemporary jazz, or a combination of those styles with (again) the blues mixed in. For a good example of this hear "Morning Song". The playing is simply exemplary. The same can be said for "New Life", a loose but together composition with the band slowing down to play some very pretty melodies-but still sounding fresh and contemporary.
"Hope Scope", recorded in 1987, has a sophisticated feel running through five compositions. The composition "Ben" ha s some very fine trumpet work by Hugh Ragin (along with Raul Siddik). And with Harris on trombone, the underrated James Spaulding on alto sax-both filling in the music, Dave Burrell (who has recorded some fine music in Europe)-piano, and both Morris and Peterson Jr. holding down the rhythm section, this is one hot, dangerous band. The title track is another great example of Murray's writing and his octet's playing abilities. The subtle stop-start with the entire band playing over and with each other is very exciting, visceral jazz at it's best. "Same Places New Faces" (written by Craig Harris) is a good example of up tempo, swinging jazz with a modern twist. The band plays some old style hot passages, and then morphs into a (held in check) free for all that is a fine synthesis of both older and newer jazz styles. "Lester" begins with some fine piano work by Burrell, again a combination of both older and newer jazz styles. The melody is hidden in some abstract playing-but not for long. The band comes in and plays some gorgeous music-very full and emotional sounding-similar to styles big bands were playing during that era. Again, this is another example of Murray's skill with a ballad, or at least with slower passages in his compositions.
"Thabo" is a more or less straight ahead composition played in something close to that style. This album too, is another high point (of many) in this set.
This, along with Henry Threadgill's set in this series, is one of the better collections of jazz from a period when jazz was still a living, breathing, going concern. Anyone wishing to hear some of the finest (then) contemporary music-music that still has all it's powers intact today-would do well in picking this box set up the first chance you have. This is jazz that keeps on giving the more you listen to it. Murray's writing and arranging, the many very fine musicians he filled his octet with, come together in some of the best, most important, exciting music jazz has produced during that (and any other) era. Just listen to any track on any album here-you'll hear what I mean.