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Dean Magraw & Eric Kamau Gravatt: Fire on the Nile

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Dean Magraw and Eric Kamau Gravatt have been honing their approach to improvised guitar-percussion duets on a fairly regular basis for a couple of years now at night spots and festivals in and around the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Magraw playfully calls his sound “heavy meadow” due to his equal penchants for arena-rock reverb, lilting Irish melodies and filigreed back-porch picking. A frequent guest on the A Prairie Home Companion radio show, he’s played with jazz cats ranging from Leroy Jenkins to Pepper Adams to Dave King. For a good while his improvisational skill was best showcased in duets with tabla player Marcus Wise-then he and Gravatt crossed paths. After logging stints with Weather Report and McCoy Tyner, among others, Gravatt opted for the financial stability of a middle-management gig with the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1980-2001. He’s toured with Tyner over the past 10 years back

and leads his band Source Code in the Twin Cities.

Most of the 11 songs on Fire on the Nile were teased out from riffs or scraps of melody over a three-day recording period. The duo opens with “Baby Wayne,” a slab of jazzy funk-rock named after a drummer for the ’60s funk band Dyke and the Blazers. Gravatt pours out the percussive fire and brimstone to lead off “Sharrock,” after the fiery guitarist Sonny Sharrock, who gave Gravatt his first recording gig and inspires Magraw to unfurl a fuzzy dollop of chromatic splendor. “Sleeping Diva” is a long, slow exegesis of raw backwoods blues, and “Coast Highway” sails along with a cool whiff of surf guitar. The title of “Inside Outside” best describes the rhythmic dance within a seven-beat cycle and may be the best extended improvisation on a disc without a clunker on it.

Originally Published