Twi-Life, Marcus Strickland's third album and the first for his newly created Strick Muzik imprint, offers a glimpse at two aspects of the saxophonist's ever-widening range. The first disc is a relatively straight-ahead date with his quartet featuring pianist Robert Glasper and bassist Vicente Archer, while the second introduces his Twi-Life group with bassist Brad Jones and guitarist Lage Lund. Both quartets feature Strickland's twin brother EJ on drumsand, like other noteworthy twins such as Nels and Alex Cline or Louis and François Moutin, they share a connection that transcends experiential chemistry and borders on telepathy.
The clear delineation between the discs is more by design than due to the capabilities of any specific player. A look at the collective resume of the six artists reveals a spectrum ranging from the modern post bop of veteran drummer Roy Haynes' quintet to the gritty R&B of Don Byron's Junior Walker tribute and electronica tinge of Dave Douglas' Keystone group. While everyone possesses individual strengths and personality, Strickland could easily interchange any member of one group for the other; the premise of each group is the real differentiator.
The first disc opens with a piano-less trio look at Wayne Shorter's "Oriental Folk Song, though it's not until the closing bars that the familiar melody finally breaks through in its entirety. It's an auspicious beginning. Strickland's robust tenor reflects some of Shorter's economy and thoughtful consideration, but also a paradoxically visceral litheness that's supported by Archer's strummed chords and EJ's roiling maelstrom.
The balance of the disc consists of Strickland originals. On the lyrical "The Beast Within Beauty, Strickland's soprano avoids the more nasal quality inherent in Shorter and Coltrane's playing, before he switches to tenor for its solo section. Glasper's playing is outstanding, suggesting that Blue Note's exposure of the pianist to the spotlight may have been premature. Whether the material is metrically challenging, harmonically complex or swinging with fire, Glasper's playing manifests a pervasive confidence and rich inventiveness that surpasses his own solid Canvas (Blue Note, 2006).
Strickland's quartet on disc one stretches out considerably more than his Twi-Life group, where Lund's warm, mostly clean hollowbody tone contrasts sharply with Jones' brighter edge. The guitar may not have the piano's range, but Lund's voicings create a refreshing openendedness, a harmonic ambiguity that is anchored by EJ's in-the-pocket groove-centricity. The writingagain all by Marcus, with the exception of EJ's dark, brush-driven "In Faith is more rhythmically complex and posits a different kind of dynamic than the other quartet.
Throughout Strickland demonstrates why he's become such an in-demand player in such a short time. Though he has indisputable chops, he also understands the value of space and the power of tone. Twi-Life delivers on the promise of his earlier Fresh Sound New Talent releases and suggests a bright future for this fine saxophonist, composer and bandleader.
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Personnel: Marcus Strickland: soprano and tenor saxophones; EJ Strickland: drums; Robert Glasper: piano (CD1); Vicente Archer: bass (CD1); Lage Lund: guitar (CD2); Brad Jones: electric bass (CD2).