Publication: The Wall Street Journal
Author: Larry Blumenfeld
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis enjoys a luxury rare in jazz, too: His quartet has been together for a decade. And it shows. Less the music of metamorphosis, as the title implies, this is the sound of a group that quite some time ago defined its profile, and now continues adding depth and detail to that picture.
The lone composition by Mr. Marsalis, “Jabberwocky,” is wound around an elongated theme and features Mr. Marsalis on alto saxophone instead of his customary tenor and soprano. Two propulsive pieces by drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts showcase Mr. Marsalis’s tenor playing, and two ruminative ones from pianist Joey Calderazzo are highlighted by his full, rich soprano-sax sound. But the real story is the band — these three, plus bassist Eric Revis. Its achievement is based on coherence, cohesion and fluency in the full range of modern-jazz styles.
If Mr. Watts is a key element in Mr. Marsalis’s quartet, the saxophonist returns the favor on “Watts,” the drummer’s fifth and best recording as a bandleader. It’s a powerhouse quartet of musicians who have helped define their generation of mainstream jazz, including trumpeter Terence Blanchard and bassist Christian McBride. The songs, all composed by Mr. Watts, range from slow blues to hard bop, each supported by his aggressive, carefully layered rhythms. Especially in their solos, Mr. Marsalis and Mr. Blanchard balance camaraderie with one-on-one challenge. It’s the sort of set that should occur regularly at jazz festivals.