David Murray Latin Big Band: Now Is Another Time (2003)
It takes courage to step into new territory, but that's one commodity sax/clarinetist David Murray has never had in short supply. After a series of international recordings celebrating the African diaspora from Senegal to Guadeloupe, Murray now turns his ear toward Cuba. His big band on this recording is really two different big bands, each consisting of a broad mixture of American and Cuban players. Now Is Another Time documents two visits to Havana to celebrate Cuban music on its home turf. All the tunes are Murray originals, and each one stretches out quite generously in order to allow soloists plenty of time. Trombonist Craig Harris, trumpeter Hugh Ragin, and baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett each play dynamic roles at the core of these groups.
The signature feature of Cuban music, as it is usually appreciated by the jazz community, is its distinctive approach to rhythm. Cuban instruments like the claves and timbales have infected music worldwide, and timbales master Changuito makes a dramatic appearance here. The whole rhythm section, in fact, is unmistakably drenched with polyrhythmic color, and that's the greatest strength of this recording. Whatever happens on top, the rhythm section always provides a solid foundation.
Beyond that, the record is a bit hit or miss. The second tune, "Aerol's Change," has an upbeat sense of celebration. Horn fanfares dance in and out of cyclical rhythms, punctuating the insistent forward flow of the piece. Changuito takes a rare timbales solo (beautiful!) and pianist Tony Perez acts both as supporting propulsion and solo expressionist. Perez is definitely one to watchhis ability to coordinate many independent layers of sound does not detract from his ability to ride high in the saddle when the time comes.
But two tunes later, the rabidly up-tempo "Break Out" falls flat. As a show of tour de force virtuosity, it's great. But in the process of musical development things turn rather square. Even Murray, with his characteristic tenor dynamo of tone and intensity, doesn't add much more than a busy series of notes that fail to carry the momentum the piece demands.
When this band is on-target, the results are inspiring. It's too bad they are not consistent in that regard, because the project has enormous potential. Listeners curious about Cuban music, especially its rhythmic element, are likely to find some tasty nuggets here regardless.
Track Listing: Crystal; Aerol's Change; Blue Muse; Break Out; Mambo Dominica; Giovanni's Mission; Sad Kind Of Love.
Personnel: David Murray: tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; plus an army of over 30 international players.