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Footsteps Of Our Father – Branford Marsalis

Rounder Records 11661-3301-2

Names such as Miles, Gillespie and Parker dictate critics' commentary and,
as a result, skew the public's perception of jazz greatness. They serve as
enormous, overshadowing figures. Too often, a trumpet player garners praises
or criticisms based solely on Miles Davis's style. What about Lee Morgan,
Clifford Brown or Chet Baker, all of whom – at one time or another – were
crowned "best trumpet player" by Downbeat during Davis's career? Even they
have disappeared in a sound dictated solely by the beloved Dark Prince.

How a musician avoids the stereotypes, especially in our current epoch of
high fidelity releases, varies greatly. Most often, though, it has to do
with locating a true voice via introspection. Consider John Coltrane's
struggle of being inexorably compared to Charlie Parker. Not an easy
comparison for a humble man whom simply wanted to play music. After quitting
heroin, Coltrane's devotion to God reached enormous proportions, which
became the basis of his internal examination. His discovery became the creed
proclaimed through his horn, the burning internal fire which made him 'Trane
and not Parker.

By all accounts, Branford Marsalis has a similar, quiet confidence. It is a
confidence which has made him ostensibly undaunted by the sheer feat of
re-recording four of history's most heralded jazz compositions. The success
can best be described by saying that Marsalis believes that these
compositions embody his pursuit while still offering the room for his own
ruminations. A piece such as "A Love Supreme" has the same religious
connotation for Marsalis, but his approach offers a different look into what
religion can afford. Where Coltrane howled in fright, exorcising his own
demons, Marsalis sounds more at peace, almost contemplating what the
afterlife holds.

The same can be said for his performance of Sonny Rollins' "The Freedom
Suite". In examining freedom's basic aspects, Marsalis assiduously analyzes
Rollins opinion. At times he has to change the argument, given the issues
which now color discussions of freedom: automization, cloning, religious and
cultural acceptance (to mention a few themes). Middle Eastern scales pervade
certain sections, referencing a change in cultural stigmatism. Yet the
dissonance, much like Rollins, exposes the problems which have continued to
plague our world. Much like "A Love Supreme", Marsalis imbues a sense of
hope throughout the composition, and the potential for peace marks the
suite's coda. While the outline might be Rollins', the definition of freedom
remains utterly Marsalis.

Unlike past players, Marsalis wandered into the domain of his contemporaries
to prove a much needed point: as human beings, despite the construct,
originality can always prevail. That Marsalis succeeded with such tact and
panache reveals not only a special talent, but the need for writers to react
hesitantly when ascribing another figurehead to a CD. As easy as it can be,
the results of stifling individuality remain insidious — perhaps the most
important comment by Marsalis with "The Freedom Suite" and Footsteps of
Our Fathers.

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