Be My Monster Love
David Murray’s first quartet album in six years comes with trappings: song lyrics by his old Conjure crony Ishmael Reed and the Last Poets’ Abiodun Oyewole, vocals by Gregory Porter and Macy Gray and a guest appearance by cornet great Bobby Bradford. In lieu of liner notes, we get a darkly pitched story by mystery veteran Robert Wilson inspired by the title song. And the album introduces Murray’s Infinity Quartet, including pianist Marc Cary, bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Nasheet Waits.
For all the concepts in motion, this is one of Murray’s most relaxed albums in a while. More often than not, he’s in classic tenor mode, pouring out bruisingly melodic lines, as on “French Kiss for Valerie” (named after his wife) or ripping through the changes, as on “Stressology.” It’s great to hear him reunited with Bradford, his onetime mentor and occasional sideman, on “The Graduate,” a bouncing bop workout on which the cornet player leaves his mark with his burnished sound and loose but lucid phrasing.
Reed’s lyrics for “Be My Monster Love” (“Suck me until I’m anemic/Until I can’t get out of bed/Until the doctors give me up for dead”) won’t make anyone forget Harold Arlen. But Gray’s craggy swing and caricaturish presence lift the song. Showing off his versatility, Porter raises the temperature on “Army of the Faithful (Joyful Noise),” a Les McCann-Eddie Harris-style gospel number featuring Cary on organ, and reveals his debt to Kurt Elling with his urbane baritone on Oyewole’s “About the Children.” And, on a song that probably belongs on another album, he pours righteous emotion into “Hope Is a Thing With Feathers,” Reed’s gloss on Emily Dickinson, applied to the theme of immigrants escaping tyrants and death squads.