Monday, June 25, 2007

David Murray - Sacred Ground (Justin Time, 2007)

Saxophonist and composer David Murray works in a variety of formats from big band to trio and string quartet. On this album his sticks to a straight quartet approach, where he's joined by pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, bassist Ray Drummond, drummer Andrew Cyrille and on two cuts, vocalist Cassandra Wilson. Murray refers to this group as his "Black Saint" quartet, alluding to the series of great records he made for the Italian Black Saint label. Wilson's two features "Sacred Ground" and "Prophet of Doom"are singing lyrics written by essayist and poet Ishmael Reed, who also contributed the liner notes, are well done. Her smoky and sultry vocals are supported well by gospelish piano of Gilchrist and restrained playing from the normally muscular Murray and Cyrille. The five instrumental tracks are also well done, mostly taken at considerable length. "Family Reunion" is the swinging highlight of the album, where the backing trio gives Murray a full bodied pulse to improvise over with swirling and swooping tenor saxophone. "Transitions" allows Cyrille to take a very interesting drum solo. The only thing holding the album back, particularly the twelve-minute "Transitions" and ten-minute plus "I Believe In Love" is that the music seems to drift into a little too comfortable mid tempo during the lengthy improvisation making things overly loose, but not egregiously so, and this is a minor quibble. This makes Murray's pithy (five and a half minute) bass clarinet feature "Banished" seem all the more effective. A moody and atmospheric track, it builds to some starkly intense playing against a spare backdrop. This is a very good Murray album, the music is relaxed, and the addition of Cassandra Wilson was a very good idea. This would be a good disc for people to check out if they are curious about Murray but unsure where to begin. The music is interesting but not daunting, with examples of the full range of Murray's playing.

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