There was a buzz about Marcus Strickland even before he graduated from New York’s New School University in 2001. Twi-Life is his third album as a leader. It is a double CD with his established acoustic quartet on one disc and new electric quartet on the other. Strickland’s twin brother E. J. plays drums in both groups. Robert Glasper is the pianist in the first band, with Vicente Archer on acoustic bass. The electric group features Lage Lund on guitar and Brad Jones on electric bass.
The first disc contains some of the most intelligent, impassioned jazz that anyone of Strickland’s generation has put down on record. On both soprano and tenor saxophones, Strickland overflows with fresh concepts, and his uncommon creative discipline shapes them into meaningful, complete forms. His tenor solo on Wayne Shorter’s “Oriental Folk Song” starts in spare, telling gestures, gathers fierce scalar intensity, threatens to fly apart, then turns out to be part of a Shorter-inspired master plan.
His own compositions (15 of the 17 here) always sound like they have pressing reasons to exist. “The Beast Within Beauty” contains deep contrasts (soprano is beauty, tenor is beast). “Brooklyn Street Fair” extends complexity over visceral vamps, with a vast, towering solo by Glasper. The pianist’s comping is symphonic and E. J. Strickland sounds like a drum choir with finesse. This is a special band.
Strickland’s electric group is definitely funkier and more au courant, but not simplified. Lage Lund’s guitar leaves more open air in the ensembles. Lund is also a compelling soloist, with ideas about Strickland’s songs that are illuminatingly different from those of their composer. This is music for listeners who need challenges along with their grooves. “Moon Ruler” is stretched far beyond its foundational backbeat. The concluding title track starts as a punchy elemental anthem before Strickland whirls it into an intricate, urgent incantation.