The opening sounds of Keith Pray's Universal Blues present a sonic gateway that ultimately leads to an overall significant musical experience. Throughout his career, saxophonist Pray, a highly talented and well-respected upstate New York artist, has been an avid explorer of textures and tonalities. With Universal Blues he and his mates deliver an intelligent and intriguing album. Through an eclectic array of Pray's original compositions, the group displays vivid emotional and creative expression while examining that unique element- -the titular "universal blues"which permeates the ethos of humankind's music and diverse cultures.
Universal Blues engages ear and mind. Although Pray's liner notes detail the album's concept and the inspirations for each composition, the music here is so varied and so texturally beautiful that multiple listenings might lead one down entirely different paths of enjoyment. That's a hallmark of great art.
Pray's horn has been obviously influenced by John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and the later explorations of Charlie Mariano, not only improvisationally, but also in his compositional and performance approachesthink Miles Davis' classic, In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969). Listen to the superb "Mongol Blues" as Pray layers pentatonically-derived lines over a "Red Clay"-like bass lineall the while being spurred brilliantly on by David Gleason's keys, Justin Henricks' guitar, Bobby Kendall's bass, and Bobby Previte's percussion. The track is a highlight in an album of many. Another is the exciting "Grounding," a selection that develops from a free platform and is augmented by a driving, superb Henriks solo. The Native American-influenced "Mourning Eagle" has Pray's alto chanting over Previte's rhythmic bass, then developing into a fierce, electronically enhanced debate that's filled with both rage and musical tears. "Three Layers" is a variation on textures ranging from a raga-like melody over a drone to extended layers of tonalities and rhythms.
Universal Blues is easily Pray's most exciting and adventurous recording to date. Like an exotic mythological apparition, it intrigues, seduces and caresses.
Inyo, Mongol Blues, Grounding, South Sphere, Mourning Eagle, Three Layers.