Branford

Marsalis 

The secret between the shadow and

the soul

By Andrew Janak

 

Branford Marsalis Quartet – The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul

YEAR RELEASED – 2019

RECORD LABEL – Okeh

 

Branford Marsalis – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone

Joey Calderazzo – piano

Eric Revis – bass

Justin Faulkner – drums

 

            

The liner notes to The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul mention that when the album was recorded in 2018 (released 2019), it was the “75thanniversary of the saxophone/piano/bass/drum quartet as a definitive configuration.” Starting with recordings by Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young and moving throughout history with John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, the tenor saxophone quartet has a storied history of which Branford Marsalis is an active contributor. Recording in this format since 1986, Marsalis’ current quartet consisting of Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Justin Faulkner on drums has been together since 2009 and the continuity of personnel shows with the brilliant musical interplay on The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. Even though Marsalis is listed as the leader of the album, the group acts as more of a collective as evidenced by Calderazzo and Revis contributing two compositions each to the album and Marsalis penning one (the album also includes covers of one tune a piece by Andrew Hill and Keith Jarrett). The youngest member of the group, Faulkner, joined the quartet just out of high school a decade ago and has developed into a major force on the drums – capable of setting a wide variety of moods ranging from utter chaos to soft and sensitive, all of which are explored on the album.

           

Revis’ “Dance of the Evil Toys” opens the album and sets the tone for what is to come. A quirky, angular melody that resembles a demented march devolves into cacophony with Calderazzo punctuating the texture with tall, dissonant chords. A 5/8 transition leads into Marsalis’ solo, transforming a single motive during the entirety of the solo surrounded by virtuosic flurries throughout the entire range of the tenor. Marsalis shows he has more than ample technique but uses it only in service of the arc of his solo. The group breaks down at the beginning of Calderazzo’s piano improvisation, precipitating a gradual crescendo into turbulent group interaction.

 

Marsalis’ lyrical soprano saxophone playing is front and center on Calderazzo’s composition “Conversation Among the Ruins.” A 180-degree turn from the barely-controlled fury of  “Dance of the Evil Toys,” Faulkner’s subtle brushwork and cymbal colors sets the mood for understated, tuneful melody set over colorful harmonies. Never reaching the sonic highs of other tracks on the album, Marsalis’ solo shows a sense of restraint while still capturing the listener’s attention beautiful spontaneous melodies and highlighting his fat, dark tone on the soprano.

 

Marsalis’ original composition “Life Filtering From the Water Flowers” begins with a rubato tenor saxophone three-note motive repeated over light, abstract accompaniment from the rhythm section. The tune then launches into a more active melody, still without a steady pulse, leading into Calderazzo’s rhapsodic solo piano improvisation. The ensemble ramps up the energy throughout the piano solo transitioning into Marsalis’ herculean improvisation. Utilizing a “changes, no time” approach, Marsalis keeps pushing the intensity upwards and is pushed by Faulkner’s fierce drum colors. A groove never settles in and suddenly the energy of the tune releases; Marsalis plays a final statement of the melody as the track fades into nothingness. 

 

The Branford Marsalis Quartet has been at the forefront of modern jazz for over 30 years and with The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul, the group further cements themselves as one of the top working groups on the scene today. The Miles Davis Quintet famously recorded an album entitled E.S.P., but that may be an apt description for the work of Marsalis’ band. The four musicians seem to share a brain, able to balance.

 

The opening track “1st Ray: Intention” is burning fast but maintains a light texture throughout. Morgensen’s sensitive drumming allows plenty of space for the soloists to fill, as Bergonzi adds a fiery improvisation showing off his formidable technique and ability to superimpose polyrhythms over the main pulse. Grenadier and Winther both offer spirited solos and the tune comes to a close with a short recap of a fragment of the opening melody.

 

“2nd Ray: Magnetism” opens freely with Bergonzi improvising a cadenza along with Winther’s chordal accompaniment. The rhythmic ambiguity of the opening sets up the restless feel of the composition to come. Bergonzi slyly transitions into the main theme of the piece with the rest of the band joining in for a lyrical, hypnotic melody set over light straight eighths in the drums. Bergonzi’s writing for the small ensemble shines here as the tenor and trumpet frontline deftly moves in and out of harmony (often open intervals), giving the piece an unsettled feeling. Aman gets a chance to offer a lyrical bass solo, followed by a slightly more virtuosic improvisation by Winther. The melody returns, ending on a mysterious and slightly unstable final chord.

 

On “6th Ray: Devotion” superimposes a lyrical, almost folk-like melody over McCoy Tyner-influenced quartal harmony in the piano. This duality allows for the improvisers to toggle between space-filled, singable melodies and intense pentatonic modern jazz lines. Bergonzi utilizes false fingerings and overtones to add to the intensity of his improvisation, while the rhythm section stays relatively subdued underneath him, highlighting the contrasting elements of the composition. The tune ends with Bergonzi and Grenadier improvising simultaneously over a rhythm section vamp. Playing off one another but never having one voice overshadow the other, Bergonzi and Grenadier eventually fade out and the rhythm section soon follows, the piece dissolving into nothingness. 

 

Overall The Seven Rays rresemblemany of Bergonzi’s fine albums over his distinguished career, featuring inspired improvising and intricate compositions that do not sacrifice melody. What sets it apart, however, is the sense of mystery and foreboding found in almost every track; nothing ever feels entirely settled or resolved. This is only appropriate for the music that is supposed to portray ancient philosophical concepts and shows Bergonzi truly accomplished his goal of creating sonic representations of the rays.