Romare Bearden Revealed – Branford Marsalis Quartet
Rounder Records 11661-3306-2
While getting oriented in jazz in the 80’s, I
checked out each Wynton and Branford Marsalis release
for a few years. As well, I paid attention to the
controversies over Wynton’s musical views, and
particularly the reported acrimonious split when
brother Branford had the gall to play with Sting.
After a while, though, there didn’t seem to be much
new happening there anymore, and so this CD review
finds me checking in with them again after being out
of touch for most of the 90’s.
No one ever said that they didn’t have chops, and
there is not one note on this CD that indicates less
than perfect technique. However, the question is what
they can do with that technique, and the most
noteworthy thing that Branford does with it here is to
"meditate on" painter Romare Bearden’s "vision." In
practice, this mostly seems to mean re-recording the
songs that inspired Bearden’s paintings.
The billing is Branford Marsalis Quartet, but
only two cuts feature this lineup (pianist Joey
Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff "Tain"
Watts). Most of the remainder shuffles Wynton
(reassuring me that the brothers kissed and made up
sometime since ’85) and guitarist Doug Wamble in and
out of the quartet, and we also get a Marsalis Family
live recording, a Branford/Harry Connick Jr duo, and
an intriguingly John Fahey-esque solo track from
Wamble. This is a superficial bit of reporting, but
the program sounds as patched together as it looks.
Like Bearden’s artwork, much of the music here
evokes pre-40’s jazz, and kudos to Branford and
cohorts for mastering the old styles. However, the
most intriguing cut is "J Mood," which matches an
attractive theme with articulate slow blues solos,
with Wynton bringing some avantish bent-note chops
back home to the hard bop that spawned that movement.
There lies the rub, though, for "J Mood," too,
revisits familiar territory — the title track, in
fact, of Wynton’s first release after the Sting
Conceptual releases are a good way to mix things
up in a discography as large as Branford’s, and, taken
on its own terms, this disc is an entertaining
program. However, it leaves me thinking that a more
unhinged, modernistic release might have been a better
bet for my re-establishing ties with the brothers
Marsalis. Perhaps that’s coming next?