Contemporary Jazz

Contemporary Jazz

by Branford Marsalis Quartet



Don't buy Contemporary Jazz expecting to hear the lite, smoothed-out sound that marks the musical genre the term is used to denote these days. Lean, mean, rededicated to hard-core jazz after a number of years spent toiling in the belly of the beast, the about-to-be-40 Branford Marsalis and his intuitive quartet offer a 73-minute program devoted to the chance-taking aesthetic of full-bore improvising. Always a disarmingly fluent improviser, with a technique enabling him to tear with nonchalant abandon through the gnarliest sequences, Marsalis references the stylistic essence of a slew of influences -- think Lester Young's across-the-beat riffs, Ben Webster's breathy timbral romances, Sonny Rollins's wit and invention in developing a theme, John Coltrane's dense patterns of harmonic poetry, Wayne Shorter's singular sound universe, Dewey Redman's harmolodic blues-shouts, Ornette Coleman's chord-shedding melodocentricity -- while fully retaining his identity, remaining acutely cognizant of the fully contemporary musician that he is.Marsalis' in-the-moment focus is most manifest in his passion for rhythm and its permutations. Note how he and Jeff Watts, the saxman's trapset foil for the past two decades, tear elegantly through the challenging odd meters of "In the Crease" while never losing sight of the tune's melodic thread -- pianist Joey Calderazzo follows with his own chromatic dance. Or how on "Requiem" Marsalis projects a quality of intense reflection, stoked by Watts's enveloping, low volume brushwork -- again Calderazzo cosigns with a virtuosic, delicate turn. "Elysium" begins with a quicksilver five-note motif followed by a variation through the outer partials in the spirit of post-"Transition" Coltrane; Marsalis and company develop the line through an intriguing 16-minute exploration, spurred every step of the way by Watts's imaginative beats. The drums are the focal point of "Tain's Mutiny"; for five minutes Watts conjures ingenious responses to pithy Marsalis postulations, then Calderazzo steps in for an imaginative set of exchanges. Nor is the tradition neglected. After a brisk straight-eighth statement of the melody of "Cheek to Cheek," the piano drops out during a ferocious Marsalis excursion that's a model of thematic improvising; there follows an abstract Calderazzo formulation and a lengthy coda over a nasty montuno vamp by the rhythm section. As if to declare that to play contemporary jazz doesn't mean leaving the blues behind, Marsalis concludes with a pair of them. "Countronious West" is a shuffle, equal parts Eddie Harris and Ornette Coleman; the finale, "Sleepy Hollow" (a hidden track), is a smoky two-in-the-morning blues -- Marsalis smolders on a mature declamation that can stand with the classics of Ben Webster and Gene Ammons. It's the finishing touch to a straight-from-the-heart album with no extraneous distractions obscuring content. From the beginning to the end of Contemporary Jazz, music finally seems sufficient to encompass all that Marsalis wants to say.

Product Details

Release Date: 08/15/2000
Label: Sony
UPC: 0074646385029
catalogNumber: 63850

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