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McMurray Happy Blowing His Own Horn

Of the Oakland Press

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David McMurray’s new album, “Sax, Beats & Meditations,” isn’t due out until late August. But he couldn’t wait to start playing some of the music from it.

“We’re almost done,” reports McMurray, 51, who’s best known as a member of Was (Not Was) and Detroit R&B singer Kem’s musical director, as well as frequent collaborator of keyboardist Bob James. The saxophonist previews the album on Thursday at Cliff Bells in Detroit.

“I’m to the end of it, and when you get to the end is when all these ideas come — ‘Wow, we maybe we need a song like this ...’ I’m at that point now. It kinda drives you crazy, but it’s good to keep pushing.”

Released by Kem’s Kemistry label, “Sax, Beats ...” will be the Detroit-born McMurray’s fifth solo album — and the first he financed himself. He describes it as “real kind of street oriented, a little bit harder than the other ones, but still my same kind of thing, I think.” Kem, Bob James and George Duke are among the guests, while Was (Not Was) singer Sweet Pea Atkinson sings a version of Bobby Womack’s “Inherit the Wind.”

“I was thinking about it the other day,” says McMurray, who graduated from Cranbrook Academy on a scholarship. “I always emulated the same four or five saxophone players for whatever they did. I used to like Michael Brecker a lot. I’d look at these guys and see them playing on a Horace Silver record, then play with James Taylor or Carly Simon and still fit in. I’d look at that and go, ‘That’s what I want to do.’

“And I guess I kinda did it. I’ve played with a lot of people and gone between genres and try to fit myself in all kinds of situations.”

McMurray’s résumé is indeed long and diverse, ranging from live dates with blues legend Albert King to recordings with the avantjazz band Griot Galaxy and sessions for Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, Brian Wilson, the B-52’s, the Temptations, Kid Rock and the Detroit gospel group Commissioned, among others. He’s recently done sessions for Rock’s next album, as well as a hip-hop oriented trio project with James and DJ Rob Swift.

He’s also started working on Kem’s next album, which is due out later this year, and McMurray says that connection will be invaluable for introducing the world to “Sax, Beats & Meditations.”

“We’re going to work it streetwise,” explains McMurray, who lives with his wife, Garzelle, in northeast Detroit. “We’re going to take the same approach they did with (Kem) — just start a groundswell with it and go from there. We have the same manager, and she’s really good at creating the buzz-type thing.

“I’ll just piggyback off of him. When we go into a city, we’ll do his gig at a larger venue and then I’ll do a late-night show at a small club. The idea is to create that buzz and just keep it going.”

David McMurray previews music from his next album, “Sax, Beats & Meditations,” from 5-8 p.m. Thursday (May 3rd) at Cliff Bells, 2020 Park Ave., Detroit. Admission is free. Call (313) 961-2543.

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