Author: Peter Margasak
It’s a bit strange that Branford Marsalis titled the latest album by his superb group with the German word for metamorphosis, as the recording captures his band attaining new levels of refinement, not transformation. Interestingly, on an album where the band, which has maintained a steady line-up for more than a decade, sounds stronger and more unified than ever, the personalities of the members have never been more clearly displayed. Each contributes two or more tunes, while the leader only penned one, the wonderfully slaloming “Jabberwocky.” That piece features Marsalis on the alto sax for the first time in 20 years, unleashing a 19-bar melody that seems like it was made for Lee Konitz.
The various elements each player brings to the fold are all part of the band’s dynamic sound, so rather than seeming disparate, they highlight different facets of their approach. The band can stop on a dime; accelerating and decelerating like opening and closing a fist, such as the way their invigorating take on Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning” uses the tune like a big piece of taffy. Pianist Joey Calderazzo provides two pensive ballads that manage to sound weightless - even while the drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts riddles the gauziness of “The Blossom of Parting” with probing, hard hitting volleys.
Unsurprisingly, Watts brings in some of the heaviest tunes, including the ferocious opener. But my favorite piece here may be “sphere” by bassist Eric Revis, a jagged, lurching gem that acknowledges its Monk-like qualities in its tide and some sly quotes by Marsalis and Calderazzo. Metamorphosis or not, this quartet has rarely sounded better.