Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Branford Marsalis: Four MFs Playing Tunes

Branford Marsalis (sax)
Four MFs Playing Tunes (Marsalis Music; 2012)
Joey Calderazzo (piano)
Eric Revis (bass)
Justin Faulkner (drums)

Branford Marsalis can always be counted on for great album titles in addition to the superb quality of the music (e.g. I Heard You Twice The First Time). With his latest, Four MFs Playing Tunes, I think he might not be able to top himself this time. Yes it is a very striking title, but the music and development of the quartet is sensational.

The core of the group has remained the same for years. The difference now is the refreshing presence of Justin Faulkner. Replacing longtime bandmate, Jeff "Tain" Watts, Faulkner provides an extra boost of energy that the group just absorbs into what was already a very creative and electric force.

The new quartet also shows serious growth, and Marsalis provides the room through a number of the tunes written by Revis and Calderazzo (in addition to Marsalis). Now this isn't really anything new, but this material has a real electricity to it that shows each member's growth as composers.

The bluesy tone of "Brews" (written by Revis) has a flow that is true blues, but Calderazzo and Marsalis give it a playful nature. At the same time Revis and Faulkner provide the calm layer of seriousness to the track making it very balanced and effective. The Thelonious Monk tune "Teo" shows how fluid and instrumental Faulkner has become in an extremely short amount of time with this group. His performance in the beginning conversations with Branford is awesome and you can see Branford has an immediate connection with him. Faulkner's kit sounds almost tribal. Eric Revis and Calderazzo also have some sweet, quiet funky moments in the middle of the piece. Revis' bending of the chords like a young Paul Chambers. This is juicy stuff, folks.

"Endymion" is beautiful chaos. A tune is built around Marsalis' rolling third notes. The group improvises at every turn allowing the notes to slowly create their own melody. Marsalis has written a piece in which each member shines at their craft. Faulkner shows considerable strength and versatility as he is called upon many times throughout this number to carry and challenge his bandmates.

Four MFs Playing Tunes is a fresh new beginning for the Branford Marsalis Quartet. While it maintains the playfulness Branford carries on all his albums, his group has managed to breathe new life into their adventurous spirit. Four MFs Playing Tunes is a must own album this year.

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