David Rhyshpan (Pianist, Composer, and Arranger from Montreal)
On my last trip to New York, I paid a visit to the Brazilian vinyl mecca Tropicalia in Furs (peace to its East 5th Street digs). In browsing their jazz section, this rust-coloured jacket with a somewhat melancholy portrait struck my attention. As I read the list of personnel, it became clear I needed to pick this up, regardless of what it sounded like. The credits are a who’s-who of creative music from the 1970s and 1980s: bassist Steve Swallow, trumpeter and vocalist Olu Dara (better known to this generation as Nas’ dad), saxophonist David Murray and many others, along with two indisputable masters of American music, Allen Toussaint and Taj Mahal. Conjure appears to be the brainchild of Kip Hanrahan, who has a knack for getting very intriguing groups of musicians to work together. Hanrahan has always been a bit of a mysterious figure to me, and a name on the long list of people to check out. I’ve long had an interest in the intersection of music and poetry, and Murray’s settings of the texts of Ishmael Reed have always been a high point.Conjure - Skydiving (1985)
A couple of months ago in New Orleans, while looking for anything Toussaint-related, I came across a blue cover with a familiar name: Conjure – Cab Calloway Stands In for the Moon. Most of the cast from the first record had returned, with Taj Mahal out and a whole new cast of vocalists, including Bobby Womack. Other notable names on the jacket were guitarist Leo Nocentelli (of the Meters), pianist Don Pullen, drummer Robby Ameen, and conguero Giovanni Hidalgo. Both discs are full of swampy, greasy, southern soul punctuated by bursts of out-jazz and Afro-Cuban percussion explorations. Ishmael Reed’s a cappellas that end the records (including a version of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”) are tender codas to the workouts.
Reed, born in 1938 in Chattanooga, Tennessee and raised in upstate NY, is part of a lineage of music-influenced poets, from the Beats to Amiri Baraka. He is also an integral part of the broader Black Arts movement to which Murray belongs as well. Since the Conjure project, Murray has continued to work with Reed’s poetry, with vocalists as diverse as Cassandra Wilson and Macy Gray.
The David Murray Infinity Quartet featuring Macy Gray will be at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 1. I’m curious what they might just conjure there.