Thursday, January 27, 2022

Album Review: Dave McMurray - Grateful Dedication

Dave McMurray 
Grateful Dedication
** out of *****

The Grateful Dead had a large hand in basically inventing jazz rock. From the acid drenched freak outs of 1968 to the cool relaxed, space outs of 73-74 tours to later day excursions, the band mix rock and jazz when they were at their free flowing best. A full on jazz tribute to the band is an interesting proposition and Dave McMurray's Grateful Dedication works on some numbers and misses on others, like the Dead themselves. 

The main issue is McMurray's focus on more of a pop feel for the songs than an exploratory deep searching. Fanatical followers of the band (present company included) relish getting lost in the wandering exploration but McMurray and Co. take things in a much lighter vein, veering close to background music at an uptight dinner party at times, far from the bands original work. 

On the plus side "Estimated Prophet" develops into a soaring showcase for McMurrary's horn work while "The Eleven"  pushes forward with steam and gusto and "Franklin Towers" uses full band interplay to grow into more than the individual players. When guest vocalist Bettye LaVette delivers the blues and Bob Weir himself joins on guitar for "Loser" things instantly brighten to spotlight levels as Robert Hunter's lyrics shine a whole new dynamic on the playing and allow McMurray to solo around the vocalists; the way jazz players work best with this band (Branford Marsalis is Exhibit A). 

Not every guest vocalist works well though as "Touch of Grey" goes full smooth jazz with Herschel Boone delivering vocals before McMurray offers an instrumental version directly after the effort while the opening "Fire On The Mountain" displays whiffs of cheese, if not full on Jimmy Buffet like pop rock. Even "Dark Star", the most jazz inclined song in the bands repertoire, comes off stiff as the intro plays it snappy straight before a jam semi gets to the heart of the Dead; playing without a net. 

That said the music of the Grateful Dead is endlessly malleable and hearing McMurray and company try out a few tried and tested numbers in new smoother forms is worth checking in on, especially if you are into the more sunshiny sound of the group. Grateful Dedication on Blue Note was recorded out of love for a band that is always overjoyed to be talked about in the same breath as jazz players, somewhere Jerry Garcia is smiling. 
Support the artists, buy the album and peep some video below:

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