David Murray - Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead

David Murray
Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead

(Astor Place)

First Appeared at The Music Box, February 1998, Volume 5, #2

Written by John Metzger


After a rather lengthy hiatus, I finally have managed to bring back our jazz column, and I couldn't think of a better way have done it than by covering this fine collection from saxophonist David Murray. Over the years, Murray has pulled together numerous jazz band configurations for recording and touring. Each has boasted a line-up of fine musicians with the sole purpose of exploring vast musical territory.

Murray, whose roots in free jazz are very deep, indeed, stepped on stage with the Grateful Dead at Madison Square Garden on September 22, 1993, adding his soulful tenor to Bird Song as well as to the entire second set. The audience was blown away, and recordings of the show quickly made the rounds within the San Francisco-based band's wide-reaching community of tapers.

Murray, as it turned out, also was blown away by the power of the Grateful Dead's music as well as the audience's reaction. They hung on his every note. Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead is Murray's tribute to Jerry Garcia, and while his band covers six of the Grateful Dead's songs, these versions are not mere copies. These are full blown, jazz explorations of the music.

Throughout Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead, Hugh Ragin adds a number of mind-blowing, upper register trumpet solos that combine the styles of Maynard Ferguson and Miles Davis with his own unique tonality. Ragin complements Murray's own magnificent playing perfectly, and when the duo are united with the rest of the outfit, an amazing musical conversation takes place.  From the soulful strut and swing of Shakedown Street to the tender interpretation of China Doll, Murray and his troop capture the essence and spirit of the songs while adding their own interpretations to the material. Personal favorites include a daring, raucous, and loosely-based Samson and Delilah and a pristine, space-filled Dark Star. The disc concludes with a preview of the Satchel Paige stage musical on which Murray and guitarist Bob Weir are collaborating. Shoulda Had Been Me features just Murray and Weir performing a beautiful and eloquent melody. starstarstarstar

Dark Star: The Music of the Grateful Dead is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright 1998 The Music Box