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David Murray and the Gwo-Ka Masters featuring Pharoah Sanders: Gwotet

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On the tantalizing Gwotet, saxophonist David Murray reprises his investigation of the Creole music of Guadeloupe (first explored in 1998 on Creole and four years later with Yonn-De), reuniting with the Gwo-Ka Masters: vocalist-percussionists Klod Kiavue and Francois Ladrezeau and guitarist-vocalists Christian Laviso and Herve Sambe. The integration of the Caribbean island’s indigenous music and instrumentation with American jazz and funk results in intoxicating grooves, itchy polyrhythms, ebullient chants, rich melodies and explosive improvisations.

As a saxophonist, Murray’s improvisational brio can, at times, rival Sonny Rollins’. His brawny tenor often uncoils marathon-length improvisations filled with eruptive shrieks, hearty vibrato, slap-tongue clicks and corkscrew melodies. But Gwotet is as much about funk as it is about jazz. “Djolla Feeling” and the gripping “Ovwa” feature trancelike vibes and joyful vocal injections. The interlocking rhythms of chicken-scratch guitar, percolating percussion and pulsating bass on “Gwotet” recall the progressive funk of Mandrill, while the six-member horn section’s riffs and harmonies bring to mind Earth, Wind & Fire.

On Yonn-De, Murray shared the spotlight with vocalist Guy Konket, but this time he includes fellow fire-spitting saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Both reedists have a tendency to overplay, but chaos is kept to a minimum here. That’s not to say that Murray doesn’t reach high into the upper-register and linger there, squeaking out piercing improvisations that’ll make a dog howl for mercy. At times, his boisterous solos sound remote and unrelated to the earthy grooves underneath, suggesting an unpreparedness on his part. Also, Murray and Sanders’ playing is so similar that it’s hard to distinguish them apart. Fortunately, that’s not the case on the enchanting “Ouagadougou,” where Murray’s sultry bass clarinet is offset by Sanders’ aggressive tenor onslaughts.

Drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Jaribu Shahid deserve praise for bolstering the music with skin-tight funk pockets that allow room for soloists to roam, yet provide just the right amount of structure to keep them focused. Props must also be given to the Gwo-Ka Masters, who help shaped Murray’s musical vision by cowriting many of the songs and lending huge amounts of credibility to the proceedings.