Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Branford Marsalis Trio - The Dark Keys

A Jazz Lovers Delight!

Doing a Jazz review is as subjective as any musical art, and what you dig may not be what your friend would like. That said, here is one classic jazz album from the 90s' – that set new standards for saxophone trio type post 50s "cool" jazz - The Branford Marsalis Trio and their album The Dark Keys (Columbia Records, 1996).  

That the eldest son of the famous Marsalis jazz clan chose to forgo self-promotion and record an album of standards with his father (Loved Ones) was a great thing. He took the time to re-hone his jazz chops in a relatively safe setting after his rather limiting stint as musical director of the Tonight Show. His 1996 release did sound like the venture paid off. 

Branford returned with drumming mate Jeff Watts and bassist Reginald Veal, again eschewing the piano as he did on two previous releases, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born and Bloomington. Never one to adhere to the stifling stylistic parameters set forth by his brother Wynton, Branford again produced a work of supreme power and beauty. The driving and slashing drum work of Watts, combined with the rock-steady rhythmic time and drive of Veal, provides the necessary framework for Branford to explore the pieces on the album as fully as possible. 

Hard-driving modal excursions abound for both tenor and soprano, combined with nice mid-tempo and ballad features, pieces that reject the notion of maudlin no matter what notes he plays (in comparison to the absolutely atrocious version of "Maria" he recorded with his father). Joe Lovano and Kenny Garrett both make cameo appearances. Lovano's breathy, hard blowing provides the perfect counterpoint to Marsalis' rounder, more classic sound on "Sentinel". Garrett's alto is placed ever so precisely alongside Marsalis' soprano, with both men blowing heavily throughout "Judas Iscariot", the more staccato approach of Garrett intertwining beautifully with Marsalis' more legato phrasing. 

This record proves that one does not have to overblow to be powerful. If you are a fan of Branford Marsalis, this classic record is a masterpiece that needs to be in your collection. 


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