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November 2007

Marcus Strickland Twi-Life Group
Open Reel Deck
Strick Muzik

The jazz-funk of Marcus Strickland’s crack Twi-Life Group is a surprise from the saxophonist who, with twin brother and drummer E.J., was once the Marsalises’ heir apparent. Indeed, Open Reel Deck plants the group firmly onto a continuum with hip-hop. Both funk and hip-hop are for dancing and partying, but this disc (recorded live at Jazz Standard) targets the intellect even as it makes the head bob. It’s fun and engaging, though slightly ham-handed.

Open Reel Deck celebrates both Strickland’s old reel-to-reel stereo and the music he first heard on it. The latter homage features a rich, laid-back groove that might pass for lounge-jazz if not for E.J. Strickland’s relentless beats. Bassist Carlos Henderson and guitarist Mike Moreno seem intent on absorbing the drums’ impact—on “Freaky Deaky,” Moreno creates a cushion of sound that recalls U2’s the Edge—but E.J. wins out, helped by the powerful accents in his brother’s tenor solos. Also dominant is the booming voice of Malachi, delivering spoken-word poetry on five tracks. Strickland insists that Malachi’s style isn’t rap, but it’s hard not to hear the hip-hop underground in his cadences and relationship to the music.

Strickland’s salute to his old tape machine is maddeningly flawed. He plays one track (“Inception”) on the reel-to-reel, records that playback, and splits it into three staggered segments. It inspires neither admiration nor nostalgia, only frustration at the tape hiss and the slicing of what should be the best track. Fortunately the disc is strong enough to overcome the handicap.

Originally published in November 2007
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