Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Branford Marsalis Quartet - Upward Spiral, album review

Specialty Jazz

This is a special album. Other reviews point to the fact it is rare to have such luminaries in their respective fields – Marsalis on sax; Elling on vocal – sharing a whole album, an album dedicated to the partnership. I have no idea about the actual history of that, but it is special simply because it is so sound. As a big fan of Elling, I welcome any addition to his output.

Marsalis does more than contribute to that. Indeed, the album is Brandford Marsalis Quartet featuring Kurt Elling, and the sax playing is, as one would expect, superb, from the bright solo on opener There’s a Boat Dat’s Leaving Soon for New York to the tender tandem tones of sax and vocal on second Blue Gardenia, standards playing out much of the album.

Perhaps surprising, one of my favourites on the album, and the most beautiful, is another cover but not a ‘standard’ – it is Sting’s Practical Arrangement, a delicately performed, emotive rendition, the questioning about a possible relationship [distanced as a prospect by the term ‘arrangement’], has Elling totally plausible in the asking and the yearning. Marsalis adds the saddening saxophone for maximum impact. An extended piano lament by Joey Calderozzo follows that solo before Elling returns to proposition I’m not promising the moon, I’m not promising a rainbow, just a practical solution to a solitary life, I’d be a father to your boy, a shoulder you could lean on, how bad could it be, to be my wife and other pragmatic urgings, you wouldn’t have to cook for me.

One more effective and affecting proffering of pathos is the singular sax and vocal thrust of I’m a Fool to Want You. Two such potent instruments. There’s a rousing combo of spoken poetry and sassy sax on Momma Said; a beautiful song in the co-penned Casandra Song where Elling soars, and a final mention will go to the slowly sultry ooze of Blue Velvet.


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