CD Review: David Murray Infinity Quartet feat. Macy Gray and Gregory Porter - Be My Monster Love

David Murray Infinity Quartet feat. Macy Gray and Gregory Porter - Be My Monster Love
(Motéma Music 233724. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

The mere mention of David Murray’s name always gets the pulse racing. His magnificent career since the mid-70’s has encompassed the avant garde, funk, rap, the new mainstream, Afro-pop and Latin American styles.

This album is typically varied, and dedicated to the memory of Lawrence “Butch” Morris, who died between the recording of the CD in 2012 and its production. Murray is the composer of all of the music and he presents a new group: Marc Cary on piano and organ, drummer Nasheet Waits, and long-term colleague Jaribu Shahid on bass.

French Kiss for Valerie immediately demonstrates why Murray is so highly regarded. It’s a relatively straightforward opener, but his beautifully controlled tenor saxophone honks, squeals and veers off-register in an impassioned frenzy. Surprisingly, there are just two other selections on which the core quartet appears. Stressology is episodic, intense and less disciplined. Following a drum solo, there’s a cracking contribution from Cary. The pianist (who I first saw with Roy Hargrove in 1991) made a strong impression alongside Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln. Here, he provides cohesion when the others falter, and already seems central to this band’s character.

The stand-out instrumental piece is the medium-paced Sorrow Song. Although its execution is quite different, the structure of the tune and the responsiveness of the rhythm section bring to mind the magnificent quartet led by George Adams and Don Pullen in the 80’s. This is classic, unmistakable Murray.

All of the other pieces are augmented by a guest, and the woody baritone of star vocalist Gregory Porter graces three of them. Army of the Faithful [Joyful Noise] is a punchy song of thanksgiving, featuring exciting double-time sections, a great organ solo and lyrics by the celebrated poet Ishmael Reed. The same lyricist is used for Hope is a Thing with Feathers. Not to be confused with the poem by Emily Dickinson that has an almost identical title and opening lines, the song concerns emigrants who struggle to find a better life. Cary excels again on About the Children, for which Abiodun Oyewole is the lyricist.

The title track, Be My Monster Love, is sung by the remarkable Macy Gray. Her cracked, vulnerable and seductive voice is reminiscent of both Billie Holiday and Eartha Kitt; she delivers a half-spoken, fully committed performance. Despite the theme of Reed’s words (the song’s subject appears to offer herself willingly to a cannibal), the music boots along with terrific verve. Many of Murray’s best moments are on these vocal tracks.

The Graduate is a bouncy, slightly awkward blues, and adds Bobby Bradford - who was an early collaborator with Ornette Coleman, and one of Murray’s teachers at college in southern California – to the quartet. After a promising start by his former pupil, the legendary cornet player’s contribution is a let-down, and a rare opportunity for a glorious “blow” is missed.

Mention should also be made of a short story that is included in the CD package instead of sleevenotes: A Dangerous Kind of Love, by the British crime novelist Robert Wilson. Inspired by the title track, it goes some way to explain its meaning.

Overall, this record doesn’t come close to the finest work in Murray’s massive catalogue, lacking, for instance, the depth and originality of “Ming”, and the joie de vivre of “Shakill’s Warrior”. But there is a lot of good jazz to enjoy, and the best parts of Be My Monster Love are both exhilarating and satisfying.

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