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Branford Marsalis Quartet: Romare Bearden Revealed

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Branford Marsalis’ latest session is both a celebration of an incredible artistic genius, Romare Bearden, and a marvelous salute to African-American musical heritage and tradition. It’s also another indication that Marsalis was right to desert the corporate wars and go the independent route. This disc’s nine cuts have a joyous, emphatic quality that was seldom approached on Marsalis’ final Columbia releases. There’s nothing clinical in his tone or sound, nor anything rote in his or anyone else’s solos. Marsalis’ playing reflects the passion and confidence of an improviser thoroughly immersed in each composition.

Several guest stars join the basic quartet of pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. The CD’s freewheeling, updated version of Wynton Marsalis’ “J Mood” features the brothers dueling above vivid support from the quartet. The new treatment sounds much richer, and it’s more enjoyable than the 1986 original. The Marsalis sibs have another exciting set of exchanges on “Laughin’ and Talkin’ (With Higg).” Guitarist Doug Wamble adds spice to “I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue” and contributes a flickering, jaunty solo number, “Autumn Lamp.” Harry Connick Jr.’s piano phrasing “Carolina Shout” has the evocative quality and driving force that made his early records so delightful.

Branford Marsalis’ soprano sax efforts on Romare Bearden Revealed deserve special mention. “B’s Paris Blues” is his tribute to Sidney Bechet, and he designs his solo not only to re-create the period but also to recall Bechet’s tone, articulation and style. Indeed, the entire disc not only honors the giants of African-American culture, it spotlights a current jazz master who’s now playing better than ever.

Originally Published