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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The David Murray Infinity Quartet featuring Macy Gray, 7:30 p.m. June 18, Musikfest Café, Bethlehem CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The David Murray Infinity Quartet featuring Macy Gray, 7:30 p.m. June 18, Musikfest Café, Bethlehem

No limit to Macy Gray's jazz roots with David Murray Infinity Quartet

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 by PAUL WILLISTEIN Focus Editor in Focus

The voice on the other end of the phone is unmistakable:

Macy Gray.

You're probably familiar with her voice from her debut album, "On How Life Is," and its hit single, "I Try," No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts in 1999, bringing her a 2000 female pop vocal Grammy.

The voice of David Murray is less familiar.

However, the sound of his saxophone is. Gray is a founder of the World Saxophone Quartet, received a 1989 jazz instrumental group performance Grammy for "Blues for Coltrane: A Tribute to John Coltrane," and a 1989 Guggenheim Fellowship.

The New York Times described Murray as "An indefatigable tenor saxophonist with serious history."

Gray and Murray have teamed up. Hear and see the outcome, The David Murray Infinity Quartet featuring Macy Gray, 7:30 p.m. June 18, Musikfest Café, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem.

In separate recent phone interviews, Gray and Murray discuss how their collaboration began, their music and their individual styles.

Gray sings "Be My Monster Love," title track on the June 11 David Murray Quartet CD release, his first in six years.

Murray and Gray first worked together at The Roots' Questlove's Afro Picks in September 2011 in Paris before an audience of 5,000. Murray was arranger, bandleader and player. Gray was a vocalist.

"We hit if off. He had shows and he asked me to guest," Gray says of her collaboration with Murray.

Gray plans to release a new CD of original material she developed with Jason Hill, who has the Indie Rock band, Louis XIV.

Macy Gray was born Natalie Renee McIntyre in Canton, Ohio, to Laura McIntyre and Otis Jones. Her mother remarried Richard McIntyre, who adopted Macy. Gray and Tracy Hinds had three children and are divorced.

When asked where she derived her stage name, Macy Gray says, "I actually stole it off of a mailbox in Canton, Ohio."

In addition to singing, Gray has done acting, including in the feature movies, "Training Day," "Spider-Man," "Scary Movie 3" and "Lackawanna Blues."

Of singing jazz with the Murray quartet, Gray says. "It's definitely a challenge for me. It forces me to hit every note.

"I actually came up on jazz. I'm a jazz singer, but I make pop music," she says, adding her vocal influences include Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone and Frank Sinatra.

Says Murray, "I've worked with a lot of singers," mentioning Cassandra Wilson and Fontella Bass.

Of Gray, Murray says, "I think that the first thing that they say is that she's a statuesque woman."

When it's mentioned that Gray is listed as six-foot-tall, Murray quips, "She's six and a half. She makes me look like a dwarf. She's got these shoes on. She's a powerful presence."

On Murray's latest album, instead of liner notes, there's a short story, "A Dangerous Kind of Love," by novelist Robert Wilson, inspired by the title track, for which the lyrics were written by Ishmael Reed.

The Bethlehem date follows a concert in April in Mexico and kicks off a 22-gig series by the Murray Quartet and Gray that includes stops in New York City, Canada, Slovenia, Romania Denmark, Japan, Belgium and Italy.

Says Gray of the Musikfest Cafe concert, "It's all jazz. We do a couple of my songs, but to David's arrangements. We mix it up quite a bit."

One of the songs they are expected to perform is "Green Satin Dress," with music by Butch Morris and for which Murray says he wrote the lyrics some 30 years ago.

Gray, known for eye-catching attire that ranges from supper-club swank to neo-psychedelic flamboyant, says, "He wants me to get one for the show. I think that's corny," adding she may just do so.

"She's got to wear that dress," Murray jokes.