Publication: Time Out New York
Author: David R. Adler
Branford Marsalis may be a celebrity—he appeared this past season as a guest taster on Top Chef—but undiluted jazz is the saxophonist’s main message. A decade after the death of pianist Kenny Kirkland, practically a brother to Marsalis and his longtime drummer, Jeff “Tain” Watts, the band maintains a reputation as one of the tightest, most explosive units on the current jazz scene, with Joey Calderazzo filling Kirkland’s shoes and Eric Revis providing serious momentum on bass. The new disc, Metamorphosen, follows 2006’s Braggtown with material that’s similar in spirit, from pugilistic swing to limping, asymmetrical rhythm and slow, mournful melody.
Marsalis’s work has an assertively modernist, postbebop edge, not unlike the mid-’80s output of his younger brother Wynton, who has long since moved in other directions. That muscular sound informs Metamorphosen, notably Watts’s “The Return of the Jitney Man,” Marsalis’s “Jabberwocky” (a rare alto-sax feature) and Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning,” heard in a somewhat deconstructed style. Calderazzo’s two ballads, “The Last Goodbye” and the out-of-tempo “The Blossom of Parting,” introduce a darker element and highlight Marsalis’s soprano-sax lyricism. Revis offers the angular, calmly stated counterpoint of “Abe Vigoda,” along with “And Then, He Was Gone,” a solo bass piece that segues directly into Watts’s “Samo,” in funky 7/4 time. Metamorphosen may not be a definitive document, but it solidly represents a working band in fine form.