Marcus Strickland: Twi-Life
Marcus Strickland is one of today's brightest young saxophone stars, still unfamiliar to many listeners. Rejecting the easy option of reheating jazz music's past glories, he's intent on following his own path.
Strickland's track record over the past few years has been impressive. He's learnt from elder statesman Michael Carvin (Marsalis Music), recorded with trumpeter Dave Douglas (on Keystone) and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts (on Detained At The Blue Note), and released two as-leader recordings, At Last, in 2002, and Brotherhood, in 2003. Strickland now follows these achievements with the formation of his own label, Strick Muzik, which he's launching with the double CD Twi-Life.. Two bands, two discs: each executed in Strickland's warm, smooth and fluid style.
The first disc features Strickland's longtime crew, which includes the vibrant Robert Glasper (piano), the rock solid Vicente Archer (acoustic bass), and his dynamic brother, E.J. Strickland, (drums). As with the two earlier albums, Twi-Life appeals to both traditional and more restless listeners by skillfully straddling modern and mainstream idioms. Of the seventeen featured tunes, the only one not written by Strickland is the totally cool trio cover of Wayne Shorter's "Oriental Folk Song," with Archer's bass setting the pace and the two Stricklands burning and freestyling over it on tenor and drums.
The rest of the music on disc one stays in this energeticbut always smooth and lucidgroove. "The Beast Within Beauty," featuring Strickland on both soprano and tenor alongside Glasper's soulful piano, builds intensity upon intensity to reach satisfyingly feverish heights. The band stays tight, whether on haunting melodies like "An Oasis Of Bronze" or swinging hard as on "Sesame Street." On this latter tune, the band digs deep into the pocket then changes directions as E.J.'s drums decorate and enhance a memorable coda. "Brooklyn Streets is another noteworthy tune, in which Glasper's repeated ostinato patterns propel and elevate Strickland's powerful tenor.
The energy field changes some on the second disc, featuring Strickland's new Twi-Life quartetnew faces Lage Lund (guitar) and Brad Jones (electric bass) join E.J., who retains the drum stool. The dynamics of the music are effected not only by the two new musicians, but also by the way Strickland approaches the music. Here he covers more modern styles, from the funky "Majesty," through the laid back groove of "Shift," to the ska influenced "Haile Selassie." Strickland's horn remains vital and vibrant, and these new contexts demonstrate that easier listening doesn't necessarily mean watered down, undemanding music.
Jones navigates the quartet through some tricky waters on the old school funk of "Nottage Cottage," as E.J. holds a rock steady back beat. On "Glitch" and "Paradigm" Jones' inventive electric bass takes two strong solos. Lund, who won the 2005 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition, is a delightful guitarist and the perfect foil for Strickland's warm saxophone. His full bodied playing is mature and expressive, whether comping or laying down intricate solos. E.J.'s drumming is an ever present delight, and he also shows his composer skills with the stylish "In Faith." Disc two closes with, "Twi-Life," its tight guitar/sax harmonies supported by a very groovy and danceable pulse.
Is one CD better than the other? That's up to the listener. Both discs are enjoyable and both are packed with Marcus Strickland's soulful, modern and thoughtful music. A bold move from the young blood.