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Publication: The Herald-Sun (Durham)
Author: Cliff Bellamy
Date: August 10, 2012
Branford Marsalis Quartet. “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” (Marsalis Music)
In film director Charles Cardello’s wonderful documentary about the new recording by the Branford Marsalis Quartet, Marsalis and other members of the quartet discuss how records used to be made. Marsalis talks about Frank Sinatra singing some 20 tunes in a marathon session with orchestra. “When you listen to those Miles Davis records like ‘Nefertiti’ and ‘Miles Smiles,’ ” Marsalis continues, “they just brought those tunes in and played them. They never even played them on the road and it’s killing. I want to be like them.”
“Killing” applies to the music on “Four MFs Playing Tunes,” released this week. The record is the third the quartet has recorded at St. Joseph’s Church at Hayti Heritage Center, along with Marsalis’ duo record with pianist Joey Calderazzo, “Songs of Mirth and Melancholy.” On this record, the quartet is made up of veterans Marsalis on saxophones, Calderazzo on piano, and Eric Revis on bass, with relative newcomer Justin Faulkner on drums.
In a listening session at Motorco Music Hall in February, Marsalis told the audience he was trying to focus on music with strong melodies. Too many modern jazz players get caught up in chord structures, rather than just playing good tunes, he said.
“Four MFs” has plenty of singable tunes. Two Calderazzo ballads are noteworthy. Marsalis’ soloing on soprano sax gives “Maestra” a mysterious, almost melancholic quality. Marsalis also plays soprano on “As Summer into Autumn Slips,” and his communication with the pianist recalls the best moments from their duo record. Faulkner solidifies the mood of this tone picture with some soft cymbal work.
There’s plenty of intensity as well as melody on this record. Revis’ tune “Brews” has a whimsical, humorous quality. Marsalis’ expert technique comes through on his solo, and Revis also takes a wonderfully understated solo. Marsalis’ composition “Whiplash” has the drive and intensity of some of Ornette Coleman’s greatest work. (Note on this tune how Revis and Faulkner play off of each other in between Marsalis’ and Calderazzo’s solos.) The quartet is at its freest and most intense on Marsalis’ “Endymion,” and Marsalis’ final solo on tenor will make any listener take notice. (Play this one loud in the car.)
As for what “MF” in the CD title means, for the purposes of this review, let’s assume “mighty fine.”