Dave McMurray: Grateful Deadication 2
There really is no good reason why more jazz artists haven’t taken to interpreting the music of the Grateful Dead. No band in rock has been more devoted to the practice of improvisation, and some of the Dead’s more jam-oriented pieces are wide open to the experimentation and individual expression that reside at the heart of jazz. Among those jazz greats who have recognized the possibilities are Branford Marsalis, Charles Lloyd and Ornette Coleman, all of whom sat in at various times during the Dead’s lifespan, but saxophonist Dave McMurray is one of very few who have taken the idea into the studio and run with it. His Grateful Deadication, a 2021 Blue Note release, saw McMurray (joined by guests including Bob Weir) reimagining such classics as “Dark Star,” “Eyes of the World” and “Touch of Grey,” and now the label—whose president, Wolf Bros member Don Was, contributes some bass— reprises the concept with a second volume. This time around, the track list features such meaty templates for blowing as “Bird Song,” “Playing in the Band” and “China Cat Sunflower.” But McMurray, who produced most of the set, and his collaborators (most returning from the first volume) step into less obvious territory by taking on several tunes that might not seem conducive to a jazz remake: “Truckin’,” “Crazy Fingers,” “To Lay Me Down” and “If I Had the World to Give” among them. The album’s first single, “Scarlet Begonias”—which features Dead & Company’s Oteil Burbridge—lends itself to layered vocals and percolating rhythmic twists, and “The Other One,” one of two tracks featuring guest keyboardist Bob James, is virtually unrecognizable for the first third of its nine minutes—until it takes off in that instantly familiar pattern. There’s plenty here to soak in and a lot more where this came from.