Branford Marsalis Quartet – Four MFs Playin' Tunes (2012)

If you’ve often felt that saxophonist Branford Marsalis’ studio recordings failed to reflect the intensity and humor of his live appearances, this MF is for you.

Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, due on August 7, 2012 from Marsalis Music, telegraphs its almost offhanded sense of straight-ahead propulsion right in its very title — a humorous suggestion from the eldest of the Marsalis family of jazz performers that ended up sticking. Featured are a string of original band compositions, along with two covers — one from Thelonious Monk (“Teo”) and another dating back to the 1930s (the Sidney Bechet bonus track). Along the way, Marsalis and Co. have captured the fervor of a classic blowing-session — starting with the album’s percolating opener “The Mighty Sword,” and not often letting up through eight subsequent tracks.

“Brews” is somehow both blues and textural, even while sneaking in a few Rollins-ish quips. “Whiplash” lives up to its billing, with a rhythm that rumbles along like a rising summer storm amid an exhilarating series of runs from Marsalis. Then there’s “Teo,” with its classic downtown-traffic stops and starts.

That’s not to say Marsalis hasn’t retained his gentle way with a ballad.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Ellis Marsalis, family patriarch and respected longtime educator, talks about the term 'jazz': "Music can never be changed by a name."]

He unfurls an eloquent romanticism on soprano during “As Summer Into Autumn Slips,” explores a deeply emotional place on “Maestra” and then switches to a frisky but yet still honeyed tenor for “My Ideal.” Marsalis tips a hat to his roots as a New Orleans native too, both with the briskly imaginative “Endymion” (one of the signature krewes in the annual Mardi Gras parades) and, of course, with the smooth yet distinctive Bechet number.

But there’s no less a sense of focus, no less a sense of commitment. By the time it’s over, Four MFs Playin’ Tunes has through sheer force and wit finally captured the winking intelligence — really, the loose sense of serious fun — that’s always been part of Marsalis’ stage show.

Joey Calderazzo, who first came to notice alongside Michael Brecker, has a relationship with Marsalis that tracks back to early successes like the pianist’s effusive 1991 release To Know One. This is the first Marsalis quartet recording with Justin Faulkner, an active drummer who joined the group three years ago. Longtime bassist Eric Revis rounds out the group.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.