26 Nov Branford Marsalis’ “Braggtown: jazz for the ages
Jazz as a genre can span the range from big-band swing, melodic pop standards and mainstream funk-rock , to cool, bop, and way the hell out there.
Branford Marsalis is one musician who not only understands, but also appreciates, the big ol’ umbrella that the word represents. The oldest son in a jazz history-making family, the Brooklyn-born saxophonist has played the pure stuff as well as the pop stuff. He played with Miles, and led the “Tonight Show” band. He performed with his brother, Wynton, and toured with the Grateful Dead.
Despite his dabbling with the “dark side” of pop music, though, no one questions his ability, nor his dedication to, the traditions of jazz.
On his latest album with his quartet, joined by Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, Marsalis shows his fluency with two of those purist’s traditions: The cacophonous rhythmic and sonic workouts that are rooted in John Coltrane’s post-bop music from the ’50s and ’60s, as well as gentle, introspective mood-pieces that embrace melody.
Don’t be fooled by the mellowness of some of the tracks here, though. Even as he caresses a song, like Calderazzo’s “Hope,” he can shatter it with a sudden burst of cascading notes that take the melody and deconstruct it in a bar. Still, Marsalis’ tender dance with Calderazzo’s keyboards on “Fate” can lull you into a dreamy state.
Elsewhere, the dance is much more frenetic, with all the players contributing to the frantic pace.
They call it the “burnout” — the extended jamming that makes up some of this albums most kinetic — and, for pop music fans, the most difficult — music. “Jack Baker,” the opening track, and “Blakzilla,” drummer Watts’ homage to the King of the Monsters, both kick off with a slow draw of peaceful breath, but then dive into breathless territory, with Marsalis skronking and squawking, exploring new territory with every passing bar.
After “Blakzilla,” the group returns to Earth with the placid “O Solitude,” a beautiful take on Henry Purcell’s composition from the classical music canon.
The CD ends with bassist Revis’ epic “Black Elk Speaks,” an audio journey that starts with a bebop intro and then rushes headlong into an extended sax workout and passages of piano and bass solos.
Four of the album’s seven tracks are over 10 minutes long — a sure sign that this isn’t pop music. So if you’re a fan of pop-jazz a la David Sanborn, this is definitely not for you. “Braggtown” is brilliant, but much of it isn’t meant for backgound listening. It needs to be front and center, so it can command your attention.