Branford Marsalis – I Heard You Twice The First Time (1991)

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Neatly mixing two of our favorite topics, Branford Marsalis pays no empty lip-service to exploring blues through the jazz idiom here.

In fact, you don’t have to listen more than once to hear that’s he’s gone off the deep blue end. Any CD with appearances by B.B. King, Linda Hopkins and John Lee Hooker isn’t playing footsie.

And, oh, Mr. King! His’ “B.B.’s Blues” displays by far some of the most impassioned playing and braying he’d done in several years. Hooker and Hopkins cooly inhabit their showcases on “Heard You Twice,” too.

“Berta, Berta,” a traditional chain-gang holler, includes cast members from August Wilson’s play “The Piano Lesson.”

Getting the picture? As great as The Concept no doubt is here, Marsalis is nearly swallowed whole by it.

The best of the blues-based instrumentals doesn’t even feature Branford’s rhythm section of the time — but bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley from brother Wynton’s septet. (The other great soloist here? No, again, not Branford. It’s guitarist Russell Malone.)

Not being able to find too much Branford on a Branford record doesn’t sink it, however. If only because I love the blues so well. Too, the brief flickering Marsalis you do hear is top notch.

Good example: The Marsalis-Bob Hurst-Jeff “Tain” Watts penned “Simi Valley Blues,” which finishes the album in the same sharp diction as the opener, “Brother Trying to Catch a Cab (on the Eastside) Blues.”

Marsalis, in embracing the blues, seems to trying to forge a link between the perhaps forgotten work of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson with the sophisticated problems of today’s inner-city blacks.

He is not the new-age griot, or Chuck D-type, that he aspires to be. But, in the end, Branford’s heart is in the right place.

Nick’s Pick: Tain Watts’ “Stretto from the Ghetto,” an example of what Marsalis’ band (at this time, also including the late Kenny Kirkland) could do so well in counterpoint. It breaks down, it fools around. But it never forgets to swing.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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