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David Murray: Black Saint

Russ Musto By

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The Black Saint Quartet is an opportunity to show another generation what made me what I have become.
David MurrayThe most widely recorded saxophonist of his generation, David Murray's brawny tenor has been heard in a dizzying array of configurations: solo recitals, piano-less trios, duets with pianists and drummers; with the World Saxophone Quartet and his own quintets, sextets and octets; fronting big bands and orchestras with string sections and Afro-Cuban percussion ensembles; in the company of poets, singers and dancers and guitarists from James Blood Ulmer to Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead; and most recently with the Gwo-ka Masters of Guadeloupe. But these days the veteran avant-gardist has settled into that most traditional of all saxophone settings, the quartet with piano, bass and drum accompaniment that has long been the forum of choice for tenorists from Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster to Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane.

Murray calls his new group the Black Saint Quartet, named after the legendary Italian record label for which he recorded some of his best work during the decade-and-a-half from 1978 to 1993. Now with his prolific output from the company's vaults available as downloads on the internet, his desire to call attention to that music serves a twofold purpose, both artistic and economic. He notes, "It's an opportunity to maybe show another generation about what made me what I have become—the kinds of songs that I've played—and an opportunity for my catalogue and my publishing to work at the same time. So yeah, this is a good group for me to be playing with at this moment. And it also gives them a springboard to do stuff like the documentary that we did for Marco Williams—a movie, Banished (2007), that was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The powerful film documents the expulsion of thousands of Afro-American families from their homes in the Midwest and South during the period of 1890-1930, and Murray's stirring soundtrack searingly underscores the movie's emotional message. The music, which demonstrates his continued growth as an important composer, is further developed on Sacred Ground, his ninth album for Justin Time, the Canadian record label that has documented much of his groundbreaking work for the past ten years. "I went a step further and I did the album about the movie, he says. "They didn't want to deal with lyrics in the movie...but then it went a little further and I brought Cassandra [Wilson] and Ishmael [Reed] in.

David Murray / Black Saint Quartet ></a><br /><br />Murray was correct in his notion that words were just what were needed to shed light on the music's message outside of the context of the film, and Reed, with whom the saxophonist had collaborated often in the past, once again proved to be the perfect choice to complement his music with words.<br /><br />Murray sent Reed a copy of <em>Banished</em> and the film served as the inspiration for the lyrics to the title track that opens <em>Sacred Ground</em>. In his liner notes to the album Reed explains, Atlanta Journal-Constitution "bowdlerized its reporters' work when the story about the banishment of Blacks from their land first appeared.



Another Reed lyric, "The Prophet of Doom," closes the record; composed specifically for Wilson, the 68-year-old Reed describes himself being as anxious as "some zit-afflicted teenager at the prospect of having "to come up with something to match the artistry of Ms. Wilson. His telling words, recasting in traditional blues form the ancient Greek myth of the disregarded seer after whom the singer is named, admirably achieves his lofty goal.

"Everything is pretty much coming together because of this, Murray says. "We're doing some major concerts, festivals with Cassandra with the quartet. So that also brings a whole other edge to it. The saxophonist is also excited about another film. "They did a documentary on me this year on Arte, which is the French-German collaboration channel, and [it] will also be on public television...so a lot of stuff that happened this year was kind of like an opportunity for them to see me in different contexts in this movie that they're doing about my life...and everything kind of centered around this Black Saint Quartet.

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