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Branford Marsalis: Braggtown

Mark F. Turner By

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Branford Marsalis: Braggtown "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! could be one of the underlying messages of Braggtown. While other jazz groups are experimenting with a variety of artistic freedoms, including odd instruments, spoken word, hip-hop and electronica, Branford Marsalis and his quartet are staunch on the path of hard bopping, straight-ahead acoustic music.

The music is in fact a continuation of their past three recordings on the Marsalis Music label—Eternal (2004), Romare Bearden Revealed (2003) and Footsteps of Our Fathers (2002)—which are cognizant of the heritage of jazz, yet always press forward. Whether you think jazz should be modernized or canonized, when it all said and done, this release documents a quartet at its peak, delivering its strongest recording to date.

While there's nothing new stylistically here, Braggtown offers fresh compositions from each member of the quartet, showcasing their collective bond through unique interpretations. The music as a whole is a reflection of the quartet's past and present. On Marsalis' incendiary "Jack Baker, his tenor saxophone wails, sings and digs deep within the pocket while the quartet delivers a relentless performance that would make Coltrane smile.

"Hope is another beautiful ballad penned by Joey Calderazzo, exhibiting contrasting sounds of individual isolation and group unity. The pianist plays quietly with deep emotion, then builds to a feverish pitch accompanying Marsalis' blistering soprano crescendo. "Blackzilla, penned by Jeff "Tain Watts, could be the echoes of Harlem's past or urban streets today, complete with meticulous timing, extended solos and Watts' explosive drum work.

Marsalis has always had an interest in classical music, as evidenced on Creation (Sony, 1999), and here he pulls out an obscure gem, "O Solitude, by the 17th Century composer Henry Purcell. Proving that all music can exhibit a "groove, Revis' persistent bass pattern threads the austere melody as the piano and soprano sax articulate soulful and moving solos. With the same chamber-esque essence comes the colorful "Sir Roderick, the Aloof, penned by Marsalis, revealing his penchant for both structure and creativity.

The recording closes with the smoking gun of "Black Elk Speaks, written by Revis. This complex piece stirs hard swing and free jazz dialects, and each musician throws his instrument wildly and skillfully onto the canvas. Revis delivers a memorable bass solo spotted with outrageous vocalizations and superb fret work. This level of high musicianship exemplifies Braggtown, which should once again put the quartet on the year's best list.

Track Listing: Jack Baker; Hope; Fate; Blakzilla; O Solitude; Sir Roderick, the Aloof; Black Elk Speaks.

Personnel: Branford Marsalis: saxophones; Joey Calderazzo: piano; Eric Revis: bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Marsalis Music | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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