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Todd Marcus: Trio+ (Stricker Street)

A review of the fifth album from the bass clarinetist

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Todd Marcus, Trio+
The cover of Trio+ by Todd Marcus

Todd Marcus, one of the few bass clarinetists in modern jazz, has almost made a point of understating his skill as a player throughout his recording career. His first albums aimed to incorporate his ethnic heritage into his art, wedding Egyptian music theory with big-band jazz. On These Streets, his 2018 release, was an immersive, moving reflection of his work as an activist, organizer, and resident of West Baltimore. Marcus’ instrument was more his group than his horn on these records, as he used the ensembles to weave rich narratives through the arrangements.

However, the bass clarinet is front and center on Trio+, a strong postbop showcase for Marcus’ unquestionable command of the instrument in a small-combo setting. His ambition is announced swiftly and directly across the album’s four opening tracks, which make up the “Something Suite.” Propelled by the engine of Ameen Saleem’s galloping bass and Ralph Peterson’s piston-like attack on the drums, Marcus delves into his penchant for “sheets of sound”-style soloing. Visualizing the dizzying dance of his fingers across the valves as notes spill out will leave you winded and arthritic by proxy.

Marcus gets so much room to soar due to the group’s lack of harmonic resistance; though trumpeter Sean Jones appears on four tracks, the majority are only clarinet/bass/drums. This setting also allows Marcus to show a real ingenuity with his arranger’s pen to keep the sound dynamic. See his version of “My Foolish Heart,” where Peterson becomes the principal accompanist during Jones’ and Marcus’ lush solos. His brushes are always in motion, not just swirling on the snare head but whirling around the kit, as if he’s improvising his fills in tandem with the horns. It keeps things interesting, varied, and engaged—something Marcus never fails to do.

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Jackson Sinnenberg

Jackson Sinnenberg is a broadcast journalist and writer based in Washington, D.C. He serves as an editor for Capitalbop, a non-profit that focuses on presenting live jazz and covering the D.C. jazz scene through grassroots journalism. He’s covered the city’s local jazz scene since 2015 but has covered national and international jazz, rock and pop artists for a variety of publications. He graduated from Georgetown in 2015 with a degree in American Musical Culture and will gladly argue why Kendrick Lamar is a jazz musician. Follow him @sinnenbergmusic.