Branford Marsalis has always had contrarian tendencies. From joining Sting's band to quitting The Tonight Show, he's followed his own path, even when his motivations have moved him away from conventional jazz forms. Today, being the artistic director of his own record label (at a time when record labels are floundering) and playing with the same band mates for the last decade (at a time when keeping anything together for 10 years seems unlikely) simply appear to be the next steps in an atypical career.
Adding to the Branford Marsalis Quartet's uniqueness is the fact that on Metamorphosen, each member of the group makes an equal contribution to the music. Of the nine cuts, only "Jabberwocky" was written by Marsalis, which affords a rare turn for him on alto saxophone. Pianist Joey Calderazzo and longtime drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts each offer two compositions, while bassist Eric Revis is credited with three. Watts' "The Return of the Jitney Man" kicks things off in rollicking fashion, but unlike the take found on the drummer's recent release as a leader, Watts, Calderazzo's piano infuses the tune with a melodicism that softens Marsalis' hard-hitting tenor. Calderazzo's own classical lightness and the unblemished beauty of his own tunes ("The Blossom of Parting" and "The Last Goodbye") are matched by Marsalis' sweetly confident soprano and Revis' "Sphere" makes for a natural segue out of Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning" as the bassist establishes a staggering beat.
This group demonstrates how a shared history and unique creative voices intermingle to create a powerful musical statement. The variety of these compositional perspectives and personalized approaches, individualized at their cores yet integrated into a collective whole, makes for an absorbing hour of world-class jazz music.
The Return of the Jitney Man; The Blossom of Parting; Jabberwocky; Abe Vigoda; Rhythm-A-Ning; Sphere; The Last Goodbye; And Then, He Was Gone; Samo.
Joey Calderazzo: piano; Branford Marsalis: alto, soprano, tenor saxophone; Eric Revis: bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums.