Branford Marsalis's debut as a leader is ambitious yet consistently successful. On "Scenes of the City," his narrative is in the same spirit of some of Charles Mingus's recordings of the 1950s. Otherwise the music is in the modern mainstream vein with Marsalis (on tenor and soprano) hinting strongly at Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, along with a touch of Sonny Rollins. The backup crew includes such notable young lions as pianist Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Kirkland, bassist Charnett Moffett, and drummers Jeff "Tain" Watts and Marvin "Smitty" Smith in addition to bassist Ron Carter. It's an impressive start to a notable career.
These works of Sally Beamish, composed 2003-12, highlight the inspiration she has found in her adopted homeland Scotland and its landscape and history, while also reflecting her interest in jazz and Scottish traditional music. Often collaboration closely with her performers, the present discs the three concertante works are all played by the eminent soloists for whom they were written: James Crabb, Branford Marsalis and Håkan Hardenberger. Conductor Martyn Brabbins and the RSNO, an ensemble that has performed her works on several occasions, join the former two soloists.
Legendary jazz greats Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling collaborate for the first time on a full album, Upward Spiral. They ve been talking for a while about making a record together, and finally at the end of 2015 it all came together. They found time to play the new material in the New Orleans Snug Harbor club for four days and then recorded a variety of songs in the studio, all chosen because of their melodic richness and musical quality. Their versions of the chosen material are simply incredible, as the musicality of Branford and Kurt and their deep understanding of these songs shows through immediately.
Branford Marsalis clearly had a lot of fun during this set. On seven of the ten numbers included on the double LP (the CD reissue actually has one less selection), Marsalis romps on tenor and soprano in a trio with veteran bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts; the remaining three numbers have Delbert Felix in Hinton's place. The performances are quite spontaneous (the occasional mistakes were purposely left in) and Marsalis really romps on such tunes as "Three Little Words," "Makin' Whoopee," and "Doxy." On the joyful outing that is also one of Branford Marsalis' most accessible recordings, Milt Hinton often steals the show.
The high point of Branford Marsalis' third Columbia release as a leader is a 15-minute version of Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" played in a trio with pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Buster Williams. The remainder of the program matches Marsalis with pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Bob Hurst, and drummer Tony Williams on a pair of standards ("Just One of Those Things" and a live version of "St. Thomas"), J.J. Johnson's "Lament," and originals by Marsalis and Williams. Although he did not have an immediately recognizable sound on tenor and soprano at this point, it was obvious from nearly the start that Branford Marsalis would have a very significant career. This is one of his better early efforts.