Wednesday, November 18, 2009

David Murray - The Devil Tried to Kill Me (Justin Time, 2009)

Tenor saxophone and bass clarinet master David Murray's decade plus tenure on the Canadaian Justin Time label has seen him launch many milti-cultural projects. On this album, reunites with two Gwo Ka Master drummers and vocalists, Klod Kiavué and François Ladrezeau, and also employs Sista Kee on vocals and piano, Rasul Siddick on trumpet, Christian Laviso and Herve Samb on guitar, Jaribu Shahid on bass and Renzel Merritt on drums. "Kiama For Obama" starts the album out in a thrilling fashion, honoring the first African-American with a percussion driven ten minute instrumental performance with has thrilling solos from tenor saxophone and trumpet. Despite the their best intentions, the following track "Africa" is pale and tepid. The lyrics aren't strong enough for guest vocalist Taj Mahal to really dig into, and even Murray's bass clarinet can't lift the music. Their concern for the problems of the continent are beyond doubt, and their hearts are in the right place, but this track just never takes off. The pace is upped on "Southern Skies" with a funky blues/hip-hop groove and some nice percussion work and Sista Kee and Taj Mahal trading vocal phrases. This is a little more successful thanks to the great booty shaking bass and drum work, and a testifying tenor solo from Murray. The two "Radio Edits" of "Africa" and "Southern Skies" included as bonus tracks at the end of the album complicate things even further by focusing on the lyrics vocals at the expense of the music. "The Devil Tried to Kill Me" weds modern gospel through Sista Kee’s vocals to a strong African groove a little shakily before Murray drives it home emphatically with a very exciting “speaking in tongues” tenor saxophone solo. Murray has tried to work with vocalists before, and with Fontella Bass quite successfully, but here it is the lyrics that hold them back becaused they seem forced and cliched, and clash with the music instead of working organically with it. The band however is killer and when they get a chance to strut their stuff, the results are excellent. "Congo" and “Canto Oneguine” have joyous call and response and buoyant music, making for an excellent performances mixing African music and African-American music very successfully. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag, the instrumental portions of the album are very well done and the band is very talented, but weak and ineffective lyrics blunt the effectiveness of the vocal tracks.
The Devil Tried to Kill Me -

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