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Branford Marsalis Trio: The Dark Keys

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Branford Marsalis lives in dangerous musical territory: On the one hand, he may be seen as the “open-minded” brother, willing to spend time immersed in different realms of popular music, from rock and pop (Sting and the Grateful Dead) to mainstream media-pop (the Tonight Show), as well as jazz. He may also be seen as the less committed brother, a gifted but inconsistent performer, more intent on cash than creativity. This album may serve as an answer to his critics. The pianoless trio-augmented on one track each by Joe Lovano’s tenor and Kenny Garrett’s alto-is the kind of severe lighting that brings any weaknesses into sharp relief. Marsalis plays throughout with intensity, in deep sync with rhythm-mates Jeff Watts (drums) and Reginald Veal (bass). That said, this set has its problems: Watts will overplay at the drop of a hi-hat, and Branford too often seems to be making his way through the changes on chops alone, running an asymmetrical rhythmic figure vertically over the changes with little sense of line and destination.