Branford Marsalis – Bloomington (1992)

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The jazz ideal is this: a hard-blowing, maybe bluesy horn player, sweat drops dripping down his nose, fronting a filterless rhythm section. And the scene, no doubt, is this: Dim and sticky room in the middle a bustling milieu, with taxis and tourists groaning outside, businessmen passing vagrants near the front door, steam rising from the sewer grates.

Well, on Branford Marsalis’ Bloomington, forget it. This recording, done live during Marsalis’s 1991 tour, was made in bucolic Bloomington. In Indiana.

At this off-handed venue, on what might have been a nondescript tour stop, Marsalis and his explosive sidekicks — drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and bassist Robert Hurst III — do a number on all those expectations. Branford said the message on this album was simple: “We’re going on a ride, guys. Why don’t you take a seat, strap yourself in and hold on.”

This trio — and previously, as a foursome, with the late Kenny Kirkland on piano — makes a habit of pummeling tunes in the live setting. Branford Marsalis, erstwhile stints on late-night TV shows aside, is a bruiser. That’s no where better illuminated than on Bloomington — in what producer, trombonist and brother Delfeayo Marsalis simply calls “the most important concert recorded in our generation.” Thing is, he could be right.

Searing originals make up the majority of the proceedings. Included too is a meditation on Monk’s “Friday the 13th.” The departure of Kirkland — he went solo on GRP that year — forces the new trio into some choppy waters on Bloomington. (Branford acknowledges this at the end of the set, saying: “Hope we didn’t confuse you too much.”) These moments, however, are what SHOULD make up the ideal — whether at the Village Vanguard in New York or Indiana University on a September evening.

When the challenge of improvisation brings about not fair play, but breathless free-form interplay, we have a jazz album worthy of the ages. File Branford Marsalis’ Bloomington thusly.

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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