Branford Marsalis Quartet – The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
(Marsalis Music 19075914032. CD review by Mike Collins)
The latest release from Branford Marsalis, the first from his quartet as a unit on their own since 2012, sounds instantly familiar and fresh at the same time. As moods shift, and tempos change (switching sometimes at the blink of an eye) this long standing line-up, with Joey Calderazzo at the piano, Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums, is anchored firmly in the rich history and language of pretty much everything in the canon tagged ‘jazz’.
The seven pieces are a mix of compositions by the band and a judicious dip into the books of Andrew Hill for Snake Hip Waltz, and Keith Jarrett for Windup. By Marsalis’ account, having played the material on tour, the band used a two-day break in their schedule to record the music in Australia. There’s certainly an electric, live feel to the recording, and the set pulses with energy.
Revis’ Dance of the Evil Toys that opens the set, is a dark, stomping riot with incendiary soloing from Marsalis, and Calderazzo engaging in an unbridled rhythmic joust with Faulkner. The pianist’s two contributions by contrast are delicate and romantic with finely crafted melodic arcs. Marsalis’ soprano unfurls the wistful theme of Conversations Among the Ruins, before a rhapsodic piano develops the mood. Cianna is steadily strutting tango whose melody twists and shifts teasingly. Nilaste, another Revis contribution, darkens the mood again, with a melancholic theme and improvisations that ebb and flow between meditative exploration and gale force tumult behind first the sax and then the piano. Marsalis’ Life Filtering from the Water Flowers is a high point of the set emphasizing the freedom with which these musicians play together. Starting with anguished hoots from the tenor it gives way to an episode of unaccompanied flowing piano that evolves into a tumbling, loose interaction with bass and drums, before Marsalis takes over. Jarret’s Windup is another vivacious burn-up, this time with a thunderous drum solo to wrap things up.
Marsalis may get the leader credits, but there’s no doubt that all four members of the quartet are essential ingredients. This release succeeds in capturing some of the alchemy that takes places when they play together. It’s by turns an exhilarating and affecting ride.
Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site.