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Steve Marcus Project: Steve Marcus Project

Tenor and soprano saxophonist Steve Marcus (1939-2005) died before this album, begun in 2003, was completed. A quartet date with guitarist Bill Bickford, bassist Rick Petrone and drummer Joe Corsello, it is filled out with a couple of tracks recorded by the rhythm section alone. The quality of the music is high throughout.

Marcus is best known for his long tenure with Buddy Rich’s big band (1975 until the leader’s death in ’87) and his earlier experience in guitarist Larry Coryell’s jazz-rock group Eleventh House (1971-73). His tenor playing shares certain characteristics with that of young saxophonists of the ’60s who absorbed John Coltrane’s methods and techniques: Charles Lloyd, Frank Tiberi and Dave Liebman, among others. Marcus also shows a flair for Eddie Harris’ lengthy lines made up of scalar intervals of a fourth.

The Coltrane blues “Up ‘Gainst the Wall” is a tour de force for Marcus’ tenor, with phrases bursting out of the low register and long lines flying through altered chord changes. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” offers a warm ballad perspective of his tenor virtuosity. Bickford’s “House of Cads,” an angular, rockish line with edgy chords, is Marcus’ best soprano performance, his swirling, pentatonic lines and oboe-like tone making a highly charged statement.

Bickford and company conjure up the jazz-rock energy and modal scales of the ’60s frequently throughout the album. Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” and Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” trio cuts sans Marcus, show how they rhythmically transform familiar standards. One can imagine how Marcus would have devoured these tunes with the intensity he displays on “Up ‘Gainst the Wall.”

Originally Published