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Dave McMurray: Music Is Life (Blue Note)

Review of high-spirited album by the former Was (Not Was) saxophonist

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Cover of Dave McMurray album Music Is Life
Cover of Dave McMurray album Music Is Life

Former Was (Not Was) saxophonist Dave McMurray knows how to conjure a party spirit, a jazz spirit, and for some bizarre reason, the spirits of South African saxophonists Basil Coetzee and Dudu Pukwana. Though he’s a Detroit native who’s worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Nancy Wilson to Bootsy Collins, his groove-splayed tunes contain a township vibe, of celebration, of funk, of souls set free.

For Music Is Life, McMurray has chosen pleasant originals and a handful of covers that should endear him to listeners of all stripes, including the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog,” and “Que Je T’Aime,” a tune made famous by French pop star Johnny Hallyday. Luckily, his throaty horn holds this exotic brew together. Working with only a bassist (Ibrahim Jones) and drummer (either Ron Otis or Jeff Canady), he creates a big sound with a small crew.

Opener “Naked Walk” drives a skittering beat over which McMurray blows and squeals, leading to a brief drums-and-horn trading of fours and a jazz-contoured horn solo. Much of Music Is Life follows this trajectory, blending funk punch and jazz sheen, raucous R&B shouts and bop romanticism. The title track builds on a sparse groove, sleek arrangement, and yearning saxophone blowing. McMurray’s “Freedom Ain’t Free” joins an irresistible melody to a dub-skanking groove. “Seven Nation Army” is surprisingly effective, like the Clash jamming with Tubby Hayes.

There’s a sameness to the sound if not the music of Music Is Life, its rollicking toughness as resilient as the Motor City (or Soweto) itself.

Preview, buy or download Music Is Life on Amazon!

Originally Published