ALBUM TITLE: Branford Marsalis Quartet
PERFORMER: Branford Marsalis (ts, ss), Joey Calderazzo (p), Eric Revis (b), Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (d)
CATALOGUE NO: RCD 3301 (distr. Proper)
This new album represents a turning point for the eldest Marsalis brother. It is his first recording since leaving Sony (after 20 years) and starting his own eponymous label. It is also a conscious return to his roots. In recent interviews Marsalis has said that he has dispensed with froth and is more serious about playing real jazz. He has given up his Tonight Show TV residency and has turned his back on Buckshot LeFonque, the successful but undemanding ‘hip-bop’ vehicle.
Instead, Marsalis is getting behind his brother Wynton and digging deeper into the improvising tradition. But if the fun has gone out of it for him, the thrill is most definitely still there. His playing is a dazzling, never-ending torrent of notes that does justice to the mould-breaking originals revisited here. He seems to be channelling any energy previously expended on swagger into purpose. Choosing four classics of wide-open improvisation for reinterpretation takes a lot of front (they include Ornette Coleman’s ‘Giggin’’ and Sonny Rollins’s ‘The Freedom Suite’).
Few would attempt to emulate the wild emotional outpouring of Coltrane’s four-part ‘A Love Supreme’. Marsalis says he has been working on it since an unsatisfactory attempt in 1991. But it has paid off and he soars into the zone, barely anchored by a rhythm section which is itself straining at the leash. If the Tonight Show and tours with Sting were the waste of time Marsalis suggests, Footsteps of Our Fathers represents the welcome return of the prodigal son. Garry Booth