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David Murray Makes a Cuban Connection

What one misses in some of these collaborations is Murray himself. He hits a couple of pro forma grand slams in Yonn-De, notably "On Jou Maten" and "Moman Coluombo," yet even when he is fully launched, as on "La Pli La," the rhythms are often less stimulating than restraining, less empathic than jazz rhythms supple enough to follow his lead and oscillate accordingly. Now Is Another Time is a lesson in rhythm, and not necessarily Cuban rhythm; much of its interest stems from the sly, often imperceptible swinging between jazz and Latin beats. In Geraldo Piloto, Murray has found a drummer happy, even eager, to shadow him, so that the timbales and congas may signal one culture while soloists, drummer, and arrangements aim for another. Murray may have gone to Cuba to play Cuban, but the Cubans he found wanted to play modern jazz, and the most exciting moments on the album derive from the mutual understanding that exoticism really isn't the point—it isn't even on the menu.

Which isn't to say that it's easy. At his January opening night at the Knitting Factory, Murray's clanging rhythms and bumbling winds shared few ports of call during the opening "Blue Muse," while the soloists strained to be heard. The band began to cohere on "Crystal," with its baritone sax voice-leading, a bewitching rhythmic figure that doubles the third beat in every eight, and bold brassy finish reminiscent of the kind of things Johnny Richards used to write. But it was during the aptly titled "Break Out" that the band really came to life, the fast, sinuous theme pulling the rhythm into its own freebopping orbit, the riffs provoking the soloists, and the rhythms building to a contagious dance beat that begged for a ballroom. After that, "A Sad Kind of Love," a long string of improvisations with broad orchestral backdrops, and "Aerol's Changes," a characteristic Murray melody framed in mambo elation and finishing with Abraham Burton's tenor caroming into staccato orchestral chords, seemed almost as convincing as the album.

Murray wrote and arranged all seven pieces (foolishly, the label did not update liner notes that say otherwise and were written for the disc's original version); they are mostly long, eventful, and given to change-ups. No one will complain of a paucity of Murray, who is the key soloist and in righteous form. His almost Websterish entrance on "Crystal" is as comforting as a quilt, and though his eventual rising into the stratosphere—the equivalent of trumpet high notes, each one articulated with clarity—has the flavor of inevitability (on "Mambo Domenica," you may wish he had curbed it), he mostly earns his way. His middle register has never sounded more warmly capacious, and some of his low notes, as on the marathon solo that dominates the first half of "A Sad Kind of Love," distend into fat two-note chords. His equally distinctive bass clarinet is heard on "Blue Muse," which is also notable for an especially attractive written interlude.

An ambition to play, be, and do everything
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
An ambition to play, be, and do everything

The best pieces are architectural. "Crystal" and "A Sad Kind of Love," open with piano prologues, the former adding a transitional baritone sax theme—baritones are rising: Dave Holland's big band does something similar on "Triple Dance"—and subsequently generating a blitz of free polyphony en route to the final crescendo. The more traditional pieces, "Mambo Domenica" and "Giovanni's Mission," are sequenced in the CD's middle, providing a respite of modulated lyricism. The latter has an exceptional trio of solos by Hugh Ragin, who in his mellow yet idiosyncratic approach to melody recalls Booker Little; altoist Roman Feliu O'Reilly, who, by contrast, is roundly boppish; and Murray, working in middle range and splitting the difference. How much Now Is Another Time ultimately adds to the endless stream of Latin jazz and jazz Latin albums is anyone's guess, but its raging individuality—flamboyant writing and candied excesses—cannot be denied. After more than 25 years, David Murray shows no signs of settling down.

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