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Every week on the air there's a special focus on one particular jazz album. Check them all out here!

Jazz Album of the Week: The Branford Marsalis Quartet's The Secret between the Shadow and the Soul

Okeh/Sony Masterworks
Branford Marsalis Quartet The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul

April 1, 2019. Familiarity is said to breed unpleasant things, but the new album from the Branford Marsalis quartet, suggests the opposite. Pianist Joey Calderazzo and bassist Eric Revis have each been with Branford for the past twenty years. They call drummer Justin Faulkner “The Rookie;” he’s approaching a decade with the group.

When Branford invites you in, you don’t leave. And not just because playing with a Marsalis furthers your career. But also because this quartet has become a model incubator of jazz innovation. The musicians are so comfortable with each other—and that comfort, rather than begetting complacency, emboldens. The playing is never defensive; it is assertive and curious and, in several instances, exploratory. But it is not selfish; the sound is unified…and this must be credited to the group dynamic Branford Marsalis has cultivated.

This latest offering from the quartet is ambitious and intellectual and probably not for the untrained ear; it is an attempt to broaden and challenge a sophisticated listener’s very idea of listenability and musical storytelling.

Leading off and playing centerfield, a tune composed by Revis titled “Dance of the Evil Toys.” It sounds exactly like what you’d imagine a dance of evil toys to sound like. It’s surrealist musical storytelling at its finest, marked by jarring time changes and unpredictable chord progressions that are simultaneously compelling and discomfiting, as a dance of evil toys would most assuredly be.

The second cut, Calderazzo’s “Conversation among the Ruins,” features beautiful flowing lines from Branford on soprano. His control of the instrument’s upper-register is masterful. The fluid interplay between Marsalis and Calderrazzo—yet another nod to the quartet’s cohesiveness. The feel is that of a classical composition, with melodic lines that are definitely comfortable to listen to, yet not easily recalled after the tune has given way to the next.

Among the covers are an arrangement of Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hip Waltz” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup.”

The former, a syncopated jazz waltz most notable for Marsalis’s duet with himself in an over-dubbed opening, is a clinic in fluency and versatility. At some points, Branford sounds like Sonny Rollins; other times, he sounds like Coltrane. Ultimately, he’s Marsalis.

The latter, Jarrett’s composition, is the closer and suffused with strut and sunshine. If you’re looking for unadulterated fun on this album, it’s here, by far the album’s catchiest and most broadly accessible tune. Faulkner, on drums, is at his percussive best, and extended, exploratory solos from Calderazzo and Marsalis, here on tenor, benefit greatly from coming on the heels of the song’s very hummable head.