Marsalis quartet; Watts Originals

Date: 04.10.2009
Publication: The Star Ledger
Author: Zan Stewart


The dynamic saxophonist Branford Marsalis is back with another intriguing album.

“Metamorphosen” spotlights his quartet of 10 years: Marsalis, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; and Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums. Camaraderie and intuition run high here.

The CD features a wealth of post-bebop selections, all written by band members, save a deconstructed look at Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning.” The performances are sometimes hurly-burly, sometimes tender to the bone. It’s not easy-listening stuff. It’s meaty and often quite moving.

Watts’ speedy “The Return of the Jitney Man” is one of those rumbling, energized pieces, and the composer’s roiling drums drive the proceedings. The theme has patches of lyricism, patches of rhythmic riffs; shifts in meter make it even more challenging.

Marsalis’ solo is not so much song like as it is ardent and propulsive. There’s a decided passion in his charged phrases, all buoyed by rich, round sound. Calderazzo’s effort is similarly potent.

The pianist’s “The Blossom of Parting” and “The Last Goodbye” are elegaic: slow and played with deep emotion. They show how emotive the band can be.

Elsewhere, the leader’s “Jabberwocky” has a theme built on a long, winding line and leads to an open-minded alto solo. Revis’ slow “Abe Vigoda” has an angular melody, with space for the bass to gleam through. His “Sphere” is Monk-like in construction and execution.

Watts’ new CD, his sixth, is populated by his originals. He’s an engaging composer. The drummer has enlisted Marsalis, along with trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Montclair bassist Christian McBride and on one cut, pianist Lawrence Fields.

“Watts” also opens with “Jitney Man,” though with Blanchard taking the lead, it has a different sound. “Katrina James” is modern-minded funk, with simultaneous horn solos and McBride’s bubbling figures grooving with Watts’ kicking beat. On the blues “Brekky with Drecky,” the composer mixes crisp time with rousing fills. Marsalis digs in. “Owed,” with Fields, is a sweet ballad played with heart. “Wry Köln” opens with a Watts solo, then between brief theme passages, more drums. He’s a musical improviser, coaxing a range of colors via drum whaps and cymbal sizzles.

These are two solid albums by musicians with current points of view.

Submitted by Josh on April 10th, 2009 — 12:00am