It's telling that the first cut on disc one of Twi-Life is a Wayne Shorter cover. Marcus Strickland's acoustic quartet seems to draw inspiration from Shorter's classic Blue Note years and the contemporary Footprints Live band. And while this group doesn't quite reach that level of excitement or create as much dramatic tension, it comes close on the best performances here. Strickland even doubles successfully on soprano for a few tunes, a move that even Shorter himself has a tough time carrying off in the post-Kenny G era.
The quartet is at its best when the musicians stretch outand Strickland gives pianist Robert Glasper plenty of room. On "Sesame Street and particularly "Brooklyn Street Fair, Strickland makes forthright and commanding statements while Glasper punches out chords, Vicente Archer's double bass bubbles like tomato sauce on low heat, and Strickland's brother EJ works every drum in his kit, popping them as if he's firing a nail gun.
Strickland and his electric quartet walk the thin line between fusion and smooth jazz fairly well on the second disc. These are deft musicians and their skill reminds me of those TV commercials where four guys in dapper summer-weight suits entertain vacationers at a jazz festival in some tropical paradise. But they shift rhythms and spice up the timbres just enough to mitigate the cool.
The leader's tone is generally straight-ahead, but soft on the ballad "In Faith and strained at the end of "The Nottage Cottage, which features a good groove and great give-and-take between his tenor and Lage Lund's electric guitar. Lund squeezes an electronic tone from his instrument on "Moon Ruler and especially on "Twi-Life, where he sounds as if he's pressing synth keys. It's all very professional, but a little more of the title track's drive or the bass clarinet overdub on the calypso-tinged "Majesty would put a little sand in the lotion.
CD1: Oriental Folk Song; The Beast Within Beauty; Thump & Cadence; An Oasis of Bronze;
Sesame Street; Smoothie; Brooklyn Street Fair; The Whole Page.
CD2: Majesty; Shift; Haile Selassie; In Faith; The Nottage Cottage; Moon Ruler; Glitch;
Marcus Strickland: tenor and soprano saxophones, reeds; Robert Glasper: piano; Vicente
Archer: acoustic bass; Lage Lund: guitar; Brad Jones: electric bass; E.J. Strickland: drums.