Eternal is Branford Marsalis' third release on his Marsalis Music imprint, and his fourth with the working quartet of Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis and Jeff "Tain" Watts. It is an album of evocative ballads, and thus a marked departure from the early-jazz jubilation of last year's Romare Bearden Revealed.
As for repertoire, Marsalis nods to jazz classics but also continues his practice of featuring band members as composers. Watts weighs in with "Reika's Loss," a slow and heartfelt waltz. Calderazzo gives us "The Lonely Swan," a yearning melody with dark cadences and a moderate bossa feel. Revis' haunting "Muldoon" features Calderazzo and Marsalis in duet; Orrin Evans and Gregoire Maret interpret the same piece on Revis' stirring debut album, Tales of the Stuttering Mime (11:11).
Marsalis plays soprano sax on these three pieces, and on Evans and Livingston's "The Ruby and the Pearl," which Wayne Shorter played on 1960's Second Genesis (with Art Blakey on drums). But as Rafi Zabor reveals in his online-only liner notes (at marsalismusic.com) Marsalis' model here and on "Dinner for One Please, James" is Nat "King" Cole. Still, it's interesting to compare Marsalis' supremely laid-back "Dinner for One..." with Coleman Hawkins' brighter version on The Hawk in Hi-Fi. Marsalis' tenor is at its most expressive on a 12-minute "Gloomy Sunday," faithful to the spirit of Billie Holiday's 1941 version. The quartet plays the bridge only once, near the end of the take.
To close, Marsalis and Co. give us "Eternal," nearly 18 minutes of ethereal yet thematically coherent music-not a ballad, really, but true to the album's balladic intent. Though the song never comes to a full boil, its beautifully drawn dynamic and rhythmic contours make clear how highly developed this band's art has become.