On Todd Marcus’ second album, the bass clarinetist switches between a quartet showcasing his drive and one stressing his more thoughtful side. The tracks featuring pianist George Colligan and Warren Wolf (here on drums rather than vibes) are denser, if no less heartfelt. Performances with pianist Xavier Davis and drummer Eric Kennedy are more liquid, particularly both parts of “Herod,” among Marcus’ more pointedly political pieces. Eric Wheeler plays bass throughout, and he drives.
While Marcus focuses on the under-heard bass clarinet, he also plays the regular version, threading bright lines through the “Herods.” (Guest Don Byron, also on clarinet, grants the “Herods” special urgency.) Marcus’ mastery of the regular clarinet also comes through on “Blues for Tahrir,” a dark homage to the Arab spring—and a nod to Marcus’ half-Egyptian heritage; Jon Seligman’s ratchety percussion adds tension to this complicated track. He turns the licorice stick into an instrument of power and expressiveness. Even the standards—a rocking, bluesy “Bye Bye Blackbird” and Monk’s “Epistrophy,” done to a jittery turn—benefit from his aggressive approach.