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Michael Marcus: Sunwheels

Multireedist Michael Marcus’ big, fat tone and huge sound were largely hidden during years spent on the blues circuit backing Albert King and Bobby “Blue” Bland. But once Marcus moved to New York City in the early ’80s, his versatility and accomplished technique helped establish him as a first-rate jazz player. He’s thus far not gotten as much attention as some others in the multi-instrumentalist camp, especially James Carter, with whom he played in the Saxemble. Yet Marcus’ skill on many horns, especially the seldom-played straight alto and straight tenor, as well as the stritch and saxello, cannot be denied. Here’s a soloist that has style, flair and soul, qualities that are evident throughout Sunwheels.

He simply rears back and roars on “The Zenith,” while his wonderful solo on “Pinball” combines a spiritual resolve with a beautiful tone. He’s equally splendid on the title track and “We Are, Now.” Marcus also composed every song, and while some are better than others, all of them are embellished by rangy, sizzling playing. Rahn Burton’s organ playing is sometimes somber, sometimes surging, but he always makes certain it fits the song context. Burton especially sparkles on “Pinball,” framing Marcus’ soaring statements with his own robust answering refrains. Nasheet Waits has quickly garnered a reputation as an emerging star; he does nothing on this date to alter that acclaim. He doesn’t overpower or obscure anyone, and when he steps to the front, there’s no wasted energy or empty flash, just quick, nimble lines and crisp statements. An added bonus comes via the veteran percussionist Carlos “Patato” Valdes. Marcus includes space for a conga solo on “Sunwheels,” and Valdes obliges with a wry, calculating barrage that gives the song an interesting bridge back to Marcus’ concluding passages. While few of these tunes have the kind of Afro-Latin arrangement or focus that would normally call for congas, Marcus’ compositions manage to integrate Valdes’ licks into the mix without destroying the group balance.

Although this isn’t a groundbreaking or historic date, it is a well-played, highly enjoyable one. Michael Marcus can certainly play as well as several other improvisers with bigger names. Hopefully, he’ll soon get his own chance at the spotlight.

Originally Published