Branford Marsalis Quartet – Four MFs Playin’ Tunes – Marsalis Music vinyl or CD – Marsalis Music
Publication: Audiophile Audition
Author: Robbie Gerson
Date: August 2, 2012
Superlative jazz album…digital or vinyl.
With a resume as varied as Branford Marsalis, there is a world of inspiration to influence his musical journey. He has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Sting, Bruce Hornsby, Shirley Horn, Bela Fleck, Horace Silver, Roy Hargrove and many, many others. His family is the closest thing to jazz royalty, and have always represented the best of New Orleans. But for the latest release by his quartet Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, his focal point originated from a comment from legendary band leader/mentor Art Blakey. When asked to describe jazz in one word, Blakey retorted… ”intensity, intensity, intensity”.
The Branford Marsalis Quartet used this mantra in their newest release. Returning are Marsalis (soprano and tenor saxophone), Joey Calderazzo (piano) and Eric Revis (bass). Justin Faulkner, the youngest member (who joined in 2009) takes over on drums. In a divergence from usual marketing, a double-disc 180-gram audiophile album was released in April to coincide with National Record Day. [Not 45 rpm but spread-out grooves…Ed.] Now there is also an audio CD, and fans of either digital and analog music can get a wonderful dose of great jazz. As the opening Latin-tinged piano chords ring on “The Mighty Sword”, the inherent cohesion among these talented musicians is exceptional and drives the music. The opening track, “The Mighty Sword”, Marsalis slides in gracefully with his trademark soprano. Chemistry may be an overused description in music, but not here. Newcomer Justin Faulkner is a furious drummer and keeps the hard bop intensity going. Calderazzo delivers a brilliant, percolating solo. Marsalis follows with another compelling run. On the next track (“Brews”) a bluesy urban vamp (almost West Side Story) features an ensemble that intermingles fearlessly. The transition into a grittier aesthetic is seamless. The sound of the group is fresh and original. After another superlative piano solo, bassist/composer Eric Revis adds a loping bass before the piece morphs back to its initial melody.
Like most jazz aficionados, Marsalis is cognizant of the influences of earlier pioneers. Switching to tenor, he leads the quartet on a syncopated groove on Thelonious Monk’s “Teo”. Calderazzo captures the intricate mastery that defined Monk, then slips into rhythm section mode with Revis and Faulkner as Marsalis wails away. A special treat is the “bonus track” tribute to Sidney Bechet. The vampy New Orleans melody reminds the listener of not just Bechet, but the indomitable spirit of this city. Marsalis’ sultry offering on soprano is evocative.
As with all of his projects, Marsalis includes a variety of moods. “Maestra” is ethereal, and grandiose. With a classical structure, “As Summer Into Autumn Slips” is ruminative and elegant with global mystique. The dynamic is reminiscent of the duo album (Songs Of Mirth and Melancholy) by Marsalis and Calderazzo. A soulful ballad, “My Ideal” conjures up a late night bandstand in a jazz club.
The sound mixing is excellent with crisp separation. On the vinyl, the representation of the soprano tonality is superlative, and the high-registers are mellower and fluid. The bass and drum volumes have subtlety. Four MFs Playin’ Tunes is evidence that great jazz is out there.