Branford Marsalis Quartet - Metamorphosen

Branford Marsalis Quartet

(Marsalis Music)

First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2010, Volume 17, #1

Written by John Metzger

Tue January 12, 2010, 06:30 AM CST


There is definitely something to be said for maintaining a consistent line-up, especially when it comes to improvisational outfits that dabble in jazz. Even Miles Davisí various collectives made their best music whenever the musicians were given ample time to grow acclimated to one another. Itís never easy to find the right chemistry, and too often, players depart for greener pastures just as things are beginning to become interesting. The luckiest groups are able to find replacements who immediately can fill the vacant spaces in the music. Most of the time, though, when someone leaves, bands are forced to retreat within themselves, at least temporarily, in order to collect their thoughts.

In many ways, Branford Marsalis has been rather fortunate. His quartet hit its stride rather quickly, and because he miraculously has managed to keep it intact for more than 10 years, Marsalis hasnít had to worry about making any of the personnel decisions that have plagued countless other acts. Not surprisingly, the dedication of his stellar team of musicians once again bears tremendous fruit on his latest outing Metamorphosen. Although the albumís journey from start to finish isnít as thematically cohesive or accessible as its predecessor Braggtown, there is no denying the fact that the music made by the group is extraordinarily tight.

Once again, Marsalis and his cohorts have followed a team-oriented approach to recording, and their democratic give-and-take, which extends from the musical interplay to the compositional credits, is likely the reason for the quartetís longevity. Marsalis contributed only one tune to Metamorphosen, and aside from a cover of Thelonious Monkís Rhythm-A-Ning, the rest of the tunes were penned by his collaborators. Likewise, the dynamic explorations through which the outfit travels are unfit for flashy pyrotechnics. Each solo and accompaniment that is delivered ó whether itís by Marsalis, bass player Eric Revis, drummer Jeff Watts, or pianist Joey Calderazzo ó offers an infusion of ideas that subsequently are tossed about, altered, and rearranged.

Surely, the act of inserting of a Monk-penned tune, even one as familiar as Rhythm-A-Ning, into the midst of Metamorphosen is no accident. The songís off-kilter contours are tricky to navigate and challenging to comprehend. The same could be said for Metamorphosen as a whole. The Return of the Jitney Man, which opens the album, is an intricate rhythmic dance, all spry and playful yet undeniably intense. Marsalis leads the sonic assault by tossing riffs from his saxophone, essentially creating a backdraft that fuels the flames of the underlying percussive groove. Elsewhere, though, the ensemble tries other tactics, toying with classical hues during The Blossom of Parting while The Last Goodbye connects these concepts to The Beatlesí repertoire.

If anything, Metamorphosen seems to have been designed to showcase the full range of Marsalisí band. Although the juxtapositions of moods and ideas sometimes are a little jarring, itís difficult to take issue with the ensembleís execution. Acting as a single-minded entity, the musicians marry raw firepower with an array of controlled nuances in ways that grow increasingly compelling with the proper perseverance. starstarstarstar


Of Further Interest...

Coleman Hawkins - The Hawk Flies High

Thelonious Monk - Monk 'Round the World

Sonny Rollins - Plus 4


Metamorphosen is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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