Don’t let the understated title of the new Branford Marsalis Quartet album mislead you into thinking this is some loosely arranged jam session. Saxophonist Marsalis leads one of the most cohesive, intense small jazz ensembles on the scene today. The group’s three long-standing members – Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo and bassist Eric Revis – each contribute original tunes to “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” and there are covers of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo” and the 1930s ballad “My Ideal.”
The quartet’s tight interplay reflects that the group has undergone only one lineup change in more than a decade. That came in 2009 when Marsalis’ collaborator of a quarter century, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, left and was replaced by then 18-year-old high school senior Justin Faulkner, who propels the band with new energy on his studio recording debut with the quartet. Faulkner confirms his rising-star status as he engages in intricate dialogues with the tenor saxophonist and pianist on Marsalis’ “Whiplash” before climaxing with a riveting, powerhouse drum solo. On the next track, Calderazzo’s ethereal ballad “As Summer Into Autumn Slips,” the drummer displays his finesse with his soft mallet-and-cymbal accompaniment.