Dave McMurray has a driving, propulsive groove behind his tenor saxophone playing—always. He’s a jazz musician rooted in the beat. He’s a jazz musician steeped in the groove. It’s that spot-on bounce that’s made McMurray a go-to sideman for the likes of B.B. King, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan in the pop world, as well as Herbie Hancock, Geri Allen and Bob James in jazz.
On Music Is Life, McMurray steps out as a leader on his Blue Note debut. It’s no accident that he wound up on one of the greatest jazz labels in the world. He and Blue Note President Don Was are fellow Detroit natives and have a long musical history together; McMurray was a member of Was’ terrific band from the ’80s, Was (Not Was).
Music Is Life comes steeped with all the groove dedication and no-nonsense melodicism that has made McMurray a cult hero around the Detroit music scene. “Every time I hear an instrumentalist from Detroit play, it feels like they are singing,” McMurray said in his press materials. “I don’t care if it’s Yusef Lateef, James Carter or Kenny Garrett. All of those saxophonists incorporated incredible technique, too. But they had this singing quality in their playing.”
His originals—like “Naked Walk,” “Freedom Ain’t Free” and “Bop City D”—ooze with that Motor City power, grit and longing to connect. His tone strikes a swagger that gets in your face, almost daring you not to get up and dance. McMurray is helped out on these proceedings by longtime bandmates Ibrahim Jones on bass, and drummers Ron Otis and Jeff Canady. They know each other well, and it shows. On the tune “Paris Rain,” McMurray also enlists the help of strings to give it just the right touch of throwback to ’70s pop. And the man knows how to pick cover tunes. On this set, there are two: George Clinton’s funk standard “Atomic Dog” and The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” Both, in a word, rock. And that’s the point of this record. Music Is Life is something we all can use right now, a feel-good, groove-driven, pop record with the guts to be damn good jazz, too.