During a marathon recording session in January 1988, the adventurous saxophonist David Murray and a top-notch rhythm section (pianist Dave Burrell, bassist Fred Hopkins, drummer Ralph Peterson) recorded enough material for three expertly engineered albums that, until recently, were available only in Japan. Ballads is more of a tour de force for Murray than the previously issued volumes, Deep River and Spirituals: Except for a piano solo on Murray’s ”Ballad for the Black Man” and a bass solo on Peterson’s ”Lady in Black,” the leader is constantly front and center. His tendency to play too many notes occasionally produces long, cloying phrases, but the diversity of the writing (the pieces were generated by all four members of the band) helps to focus and dramatize his improvisations. Burrell’s compositions are especially invigorating, notably the seductive tango ”Valley Talk” and the album’s masterpiece, ”Sarah’s Lament,” a tenor-piano duet that draws its unearthly power from gospel. A-

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