Take Five: Dave McMurray Lauds the Dead, Jon Irabagon Toasts Charlie Parker, and Jeff Lorber Hails Chick Corea
Dave McMurray, "Franklin's Tower"
From the early 1980s into the '90s, tenor saxophonist Dave McMurray toured the world as a member of Was (Not Was), covering some of the same territory as the Grateful Dead. This wasn't a particularly meaningful overlap for him until a few years ago, when he played a set at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival with his old bandleader Don Was, and Bob Weir of the Dead sat in for an astral version of "Days Between."
The power of connection in that moment stuck with McMurray, who resolved to brush up on his Dead. "At first, I didn't understand it, but one day I was driving and it just clicked," he says in a statement for Blue Note, which will release his album Grateful Deadication on July 16. "The long forms and jams reminded me of Miles Davis, or Soft Machine, or Weather Report. It turned my ears around."
Given that Don Was is the president of Blue Note, it's no surprise to see McMurray paying his homage. But the commitment he brings to Grateful Deadication would have you think he's been an admirer for more than a few years. The first single from the album was a version of "Loser" featuring Weir, his band Wolf Bros and Bettye LaVette. Now comes this take on "Franklin's Tower," which the Dead first performed in San Francisco on June 17, 1975, and released later that year on the album Blues For Allah. The dark rasp of McMurray's horn imparts a sense of urgency, which Wayne Gerard echoes in his guitar work. It's not hard to imagine Deadheads giving this the nod.
Grateful Deadication will be released on Blue Note Records on July 16.
Matt Mitchell & Kate Gentile, "key tettle | FLARDLE"
How much possibility can be spun out of a single bar of written music? That's one question at the heart of Snark Horse, a head-spinning new body of work by drummer Kate Gentile and pianist Matt Mitchell. The culmination of an experiment they began in 2013, it's a collection of performances that build on complex one-bar compositions — Mitchell's and Gentile's both. Their collaborators in this project, which will be released digitally and as a 6-CD boxed set on July 30, include guitarist Ava Mendoza, violist Mat Maneri and trombonist Ben Gerstein.
On the conjoined track "key tettle | FLARDLE" — the first part by Gentile, the second by Mitchell — a sharp, spring-loaded syncopation gives way to some rummaging textural interplay. Joining the composers in this excursion is Brandon Seabrook, on electric guitar. In the liner notes for the set, every musician contributes a poem or some commentary, and Seabrook's is well worth citing: "Synaptic explosions, comprehension over- load, subversive amalgams...is this real? These bars contain maximalistudes and essential comic relief."
Snark Horse will be released on Pi Recordings on July 30.
Jon Irabagon, "Bebop"
Another fellow traveler in the Snark Horse saga is multi-reedist Jon Irabagon, who plays on about a dozen tracks. He has a new album of his own arriving soon: Bird with Streams, a solo saxophone homage to Charlie Parker, with a circumstantial twist. Irabagon recorded it outdoors at Falling Rock, a canyon in the Black Hills National Forest. Irabagon and his family had fled to that part of the country from New York City in the spring of 2020, to stay with his in-laws. "We originally planned to be in South Dakota for only two weeks, but that turned into a month," he says in an email, "and as the virus spiraled out of control, I was thankful to find a place of solitude and reflection."
Charlie Parker's centennial got Irabagon thinking about that modern jazz progenitor, and he conceived a set of bebop compositions to reinvent as solo études. For "Bebop," which he plays on tenor, Irabagon incorporates the harmonic sequence known as "Coltrane changes" — bringing Charlie Parker into dialogue with John Coltrane — and interacts with his environment. Starting at 2:38, you'll hear him trading eights with the sounds of nature, including literal birdsong. (And for the record: yes, elsewhere on the album Irabagon does play "Ornithology.")
Bird with Streams will be released on Irabbagast Records on Friday; for more information, visit jonirabagon.com.
Jeff Lorber Fusion, "Chick"
The other day, a report from the U.S. government acknowledged 143 instances of "unidentified aerial phenomena" since 2004. Mysteries like this, with its implication of extraterrestrial life, helped inspire Space-Time, the new album by Jeff Lorber Fusion. Due out on Shanachie on Friday, it's the latest from a contemporary-jazz pacesetter, featuring Lorber, a prolific keyboardist and producer, alongside bassist Jimmy Haslip and drumme Gary Novak — with guests including Gerald Alright and Bob Mintzer.
"Chick," as the title suggests, is Lorber's nod to Chick Corea, who died this year. A lite-funk workout, it has a melodic line scored for keyboards with flute, as on Corea's album Friends — and the flutist is a longtime Corea associate, NEA Jazz Master Hubert Laws.
Space-Time will be released Friday on Shanachie.
Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh, "Moon Flower"
Finally, a fascinating album that combines aspects of everything else we've mentioned: wild extrapolation, careful calibration, psychedelic possibility. Pianist Denny Zeitlin and drummer George Marsh have been collaborating as a duo for many years, building not only on a shared foothold in tradition but also a willingness to seek the unknown. Telepathy is their latest offering, recorded at Zeitlin's home studio with a setup that allows him to marshal not only the piano but also an array of electronics, sometimes with foot pedals or breath controllers. "Moon Flower" is a perfect distillation of the album's ethos: a drifting waltz that gradually tilts toward the cosmos. (Be sure to stick around for the synthesizer timbres that Zeitlin introduces around the two-minute mark).
Telepathy is available now on Sunnyside Records.