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Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin' Tunes (2012)
Author: Mark F. Turner
Date: July 31, 2012
The departure of the Branford Marsalis quartet’s longtime drummer, Jeff “Tain” Watts, left a hole that would not easily be filled and subsequently sparked the excellent 2011 duo release Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music) featuring Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo. But that percussive void has been filled with a transfusion of new blood from the sizzling drums of Justin Faulkner who joined the band in 2009 aged 18. With the attention grabbing title and a fresh outlook, the four musicians have rebounded nicely to deliver some fervent jazz on Four MFs Playin‘ Tunes.
Faulkner’s skills are magnetic, combining propulsion and finesse, which proves a great fit alongside his more seasoned band-mates, in a vigorous set that includes two covers as well as fresh material. While there are no new concepts here, the music is palpable and results in one of the band’s more striking releases, continuing the legacy of momentous works such as 2002’s Footsteps of Our Fathers (Marsalis Music.)
When first listening to the quartet’s rendition of Thelonious Monk’s well worn “Teo” the question surfaces of why Marsalis and crew haven’t ventured into more experimental or technologically progressive terrains, especially when Marsalis’ career has also tilled fertile ground with his hip hop/jazz group—Buckshot Lefonque. The answer is found simply in the love of the tunes—the intricacies of emotion, melody, and composition and upon closer examination of “Teo” the quartet’s creativity as consummate artists with profound abilities is unveiled. This is echoed in Calderazzo’s “The Mighty Sword” which bubbles with a contagious hook; in the divine cadence of “A Summer into Autumn Slips” where Marsalis’ soprano floats likes a leaf twisting in the wind; in the deep interpretation of the 1930’s gem “My Ideal,” where the band accompanies Marsalis’ amber toned horn in perfect harmony; and when Eric Revis awe-strikingly walks his bass down the swinging line in “Whiplash.”
The key ingredients here—as usually found in the quartet’s music—are substance, urgency, and excellence. Faulkner’s newfound explosiveness is just the icing on the cake.