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October 1998

David Murray Big Band
South of the Border
DIW

Too often, David Murray releases an album that suggests that he makes too many records. South of the Border isn't one of them. On the contrary, this vibrantly Latin-tinged big band disc leaves you wanting more.

The album gets off to a fast start with Wayne Francis' arrangement of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." Francis' darting lines, nasty smears, and knotty voices have plenty of muscle, giving the soloists-pianist Sonelius Smith, altoist James Spaulding, trombonist Frank Lacy, clarinetist Don Byron, and the tandem tenors of Murray and Patience Higgins-a boost at key points. The first half of the program also includes Francis' finger-popping blues, "Happy Birthday Wayne, Jr.," and "Calle Estrella," a well-built vehicle for Latin groove-mining. He's a big reason for the album's success.

So is Murray. Once again, he's put together a stellar big band, full of excellent soloists who are also fine composers. Trombonist Craig Harris' "Awakening Ancestors" is an evocative, skillfully shaded ballad featuring Spaulding's gliding flute and Byron's passionate clarinet. The underrated Smith's "World of the Children" begins with impressionistic swirls that coalesce into a marshaled exhibition of big band bravura; it's also an effective showcase for Graham Haynes' cornet. Conductor Butch Morris' "Fling" has a smouldering, quiet storm-laced lyricism that heats up for the leader's tenor solo (the only down side of Murray's big band dates is that Morris doesn't play).

But, the tour de force is a 10 minute-plus reading of Murray's "Flowers For Albert." Bassist Fred Hopkins, drummer Tani Tabbal, and percussionist Larry McDonald unobtrusively provoke inspired statements from Murray, Harris, and trumpeter Hugh Ragin and keep Murray's densely layered voicings from bogging down. Murray then fires off all his altissimo pyrotechnics in a powerful cadenza, summoning a final sky-lighting blast from the orchestra to close the proceedings.

Originally published in October 1998
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