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The Urban Bushwomen Dance Troupe 

Playhouse Square

The Urban Bushwomen Dance Troupe
with the David Murray Octet
Playhouse Square
February 8

David Murray isn't so interested in taking center stage anymore. His stature is, by now, so nearly unimpeachable that he can comfortably lay out and share some of the attention. This has been the case, at least with Murray's two Cleveland appearances this winter. A few months back, Murray played the now-defunct Diamondback with a stripped-down version of his Fo Deuk Review -- which was, for all practical purposes, a concert for the Senegalese band, Dieuf Dieul, with Murray sitting in as guest musician. And in his most recent appearance, Murray and his octet performed alongside, or rather literally behind, the shuffling, brash movements of the Urban Bushwomen Dance Troupe.

With the octet's horn-heavy front line, Murray generated a wild polyphony of chord colors and often concurrent soloing, then underpinned it with a rock-solid funk groove. In that respect, the music proved a fitting accompaniment to the Bushwomen, whose individual moves and synchronized dance numbers were equally sassy and loose. The band, which opened both halves of the show by itself, did get a few opportunities to stretch out. But, as it was the Bushwomen's show, much of the music was built out of little more than vamps to dance to. The dancers obviously enjoyed the music, and the musicians enjoyed the dancers, which helped to make this a particularly enjoyable performance. A few of the musicians -- Murray, altoist James Spaulding, and trombonist Craig Harris -- even walked out among the dancers during solos. And the dancers seemed to be improvising right along with everything they played.

The second half of the show didn't measure up to the first, however. The dancers may have traded in their neon street garb for what looked like ravage-me-at-the-Liberty-Bell, faux revolution-era romance novel clothes (long skirts and puffy poet shirts, all in brown and white), but the dance numbers limped along in pale versions of earlier routines. For this second half, Murray and the octet drew extensively from Murray's recent gospel/jazz release, Speaking in Tongues, but it would have been best to have written original music. That the dance troupe took tunes straight off the album suggests a project conceived in haste, rather than a genuine artistic collaboration with the octet. But since Murray and the Bushwomen opted to work with tunes from Speaking, the octet could have at least offered up something a little better than the somewhat weak arrangements and lukewarm playing that it did. -- Aaron Steinberg

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