Branford Marsalis Quartet – 4 MFs Playing Tunes (Marsalis Music)

BMQ 4MFs Playing TunesThis one is all about the tunes, but features typically tight interplay from a renowned quartet that almost defines classic jazz.

4 Stars

9 Tracks / 67 Minutes

One of the things that never changes about the Branford Marsalis Quartet is that it never changes.

OK, they have a new drummer for this release – the twenty-year-old Justin Faulkner – but he fits in seamlessly and with a seasoned maturity that belies his youth. Yes, the songs are new, but the balance is similar to previous releases. Above all, you can depend on BMQ for a classic sound that could almost have been recorded at any point in the last 50 years – the New Orleans-influenced bonus track “Treat it Gentle” has a strong retro feel and “My Ideal,” with its sonorous tenor and muscular bass, even goes back to the 1930s.

So for this release we get a brisk version of Thelonius Monk’s “Teo” that has the whole quartet playing both as a unit and with individual flair. Marsalis leaves plenty of space for pianist Joey Calderazzo to improvise closely to the theme with just the rhythm section as backing. After a brief rhythm duet, Marsalis comes in with typically pure tone, some lovely bent notes and with just about every note available on the sax. While he does it, Calderazzo shows their intuitive and seasoned understanding of each other’s playing, hinting at the theme with real sensitivity to what is happening around him.

It has often been noted that the quartet has a democracy about it. Three of the members share the writing and this aspect has developed a little since their last group outing.

Bassist Revis particularly has curbed the angularity of his pieces, while retaining that kick that can set them off – so “Brews” has a theme distinctive enough to inspire interesting solos, but not so oblique that it makes listening difficult. Its rhythmic punch is typical of a bassist’s work. His “Maestra” shares the approach, only slowed right down. This remarkably fluid and chilled piece takes me back to Billy Cobham’s Spectrum.

Calderazzo, who is usually the one to produce such languid, floating pieces, extends his range here. His “As Summer into Autumn Slips” has that calm mood that the title suggests, with some moments so quiet that you can sense yourself holding your breath. By contrast, his opener “The Mighty Sword” is a far pacier affair, which gives him a dramatic solo spot and features his bandleader playing a soprano sax with almost synthesizer-like tone.

The only downside for me is Marsalis’s “Endymion.”I wonder whether he is so aware of his quartet’s classic style that he feels compelled at times to show how technically able they are at the expense of the listenablity of the music. However, “Endymion,” for all the ways that it demonstrates the band’s trust in each other and dynamic interplay, still seems at times to sprawl as the playing goes so fast that it almost falls over itself.

Ahead of this release, the band insisted that it would all be about the tunes and the tracks almost unanimously bear this out. I am no fan of the title, but the music features typically tight interplay from a renowned quartet that almost defines classic jazz.

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