David Murray Black Saint Quartet, Sacred Ground (feat. Cassandra Wilson)

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Don't look now, but David Murray is assembling one of the most impressive discographies in all of jazz history. Stupendous in its breadth — this is about the 86th release under his own name, and adding in just the World Saxophone Quartet would push him over 100. Murray's career has suffered precious few fallow phases, and Sacred Ground furthers an especially creative gush that began at the turn of the century.

The jazz giant unites with his Black Saint Quartet for yet another stupendous album.

These seven songs are an extension of the soundtrack Murray wrote for Banished, a film about the forcible removal of blacks from their own land in Midwestern towns in the half century after the Civil War. On the middle five, the Black Saint Quartet again stake their claim as perhaps Murray's best-ever working ensemble. Stentorian bassist Ray Drummond has a reputation for straight-ahead excellence with his signature thunk, while drummer Andrew Cyrille has impeccable avant garde credentials from his time with Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and others. Both are equally comfortable playing “in the pocket” or wild and woolly, making for a near-invincible rhythm section. Pianist Lafayette Gilchrist doesn't flinch from the daunting task of taking over the stool once occupied by the late John Hicks, and Murray himself honks a blue streak on tenor and bass clarinet, skidding through notes with a rich harmonic spray until he finds enough purchase to pivot and launch into the next phrase.

The disc opens and closes with Cassandra Wilson singing poem-songs written by Murray's off-and-on cohort Ishmael Reed, and perhaps only Murray could unite a vocalist whose breathy delicacy can be formulaic with a cultural critic whose scabrous comedy borders on cartoonish and have it result in such glorious synergy. The lead title track finds Wilson riled and regal; the finale, “Prophet of Doom,” hands her an irresistible stew of sassy African-American matriarchy and classic Greek mythology and she uncharacteristically hams it up and tones it down until it is several different shades of black comedy. Coming on the heels of the tenacious but feel-good groove of “Family Reunion,” it advocates for a generosity of spirit, one of Murray's batch of wonderful trademarks.