Publication: Burning Ambulance
Author: Phil Freeman
Date: August 7, 2012
Since the dawn of the millennium, Branford Marsalis‘s quartet has been steadily turning out albums that, without ever making landmark statements, nevertheless push restlessly against the strictures of modern jazz. In a way, this album, which introduces new drummer Jason Faulkner, is a bookend to the group’s first release, 2000′s Contemporary Jazz, which introduced pianist Joey Calderazzo to the lineup following the death of Kenny Kirkland, who’d worked with Marsalis (and his brother Wynton) since the 1980s. Like Contemporary Jazz, its title—Four MFs Playin’ Tunes—is an emphatic statement of purpose not unlike Ornette Coleman‘s This is Our Music or Thelonious Monk‘s Monk’s Music.
The actual music offers a similar line-in-the-sand challenge to the listener. Four MFs begins with three straight pieces featuring Marsalis on soprano saxophone, an instrument that can ruin a jazz record quicker than any other (even the bagpipes are better—seek out the work of Rufus Harley). Still, it must be said that Marsalis’s voice on the soprano is instantly identifiable, and more enjoyable than many of his squawking, squiggling, circular-breathing peers. And the band behind him is terrific. Calderazzo is a McCoy Tyner-ish pianist, spinning out baroque swirls of notes with a lightning-fast right hand; Eric Revis‘s bass is thick and human, always bolstering and almost never intruding; and Faulkner is a ferocious drummer, slamming the kit around with the fury and boundless energy that only a 20-year-old can muster. But for all the ballistic power he displays on burnout tunes like “Whiplash,” he’s just as willing and able to pull back and sensitively accompany a ballad like “As Summer into Autumn Slips” (another soprano tune, but, again, a forgivable one given the beauty of Marsalis’s handling of the melody). Read more »