Branford Marsalis Quartet, special guest Kurt Elling – Upward Spiral

upward spiral(Marsalis Music/Okeh)

A good move on both Marsalis’ and Elling’s part – I think both needed this kind of stimulus. The quartet is completed by Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner.

The programme is a rich and varied mix of solid gold standards (There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’…, I’m A Fool To Want You), more contemporary songs (Sting and Robert Mathes’ Practical Arrangment, Chris Whitley’s From One Island To Another), jazz tunes (Doxy and Fred Hersch’s West Virginia Rose), a Jobim (Só Tinha De Ser Com Você), a couple of of originals from the band, and a couple of blue-themed ballads (Blue Gardenia, the Nat King Cole song from the film of the same name, and Blue Velvet, made a hit by Bobby Vinton but perhaps most strongly associated now with the similarly titled David Lynch movie).

Elling and Marsalis share the invaluable qualities of great versatility and enviably unmistakeable tone/timbre on their respective instruments, so there are great riches to be found within this disc. They are also – perhaps Elling more than Marsalis – both insatiable adventurers, which means some things will turn out better than others. Though in one instance, it’s not experimentation that is the problem: Elling shows in the Porgy & Bess opener that he has great ability to build internal rhythms within the line when singing at speed, but why apply his chosen phrasing identically to each verse? It feels lazy.

Marsalis’ solos are storming on the Whitley, full throated yet delicate and with a classical formality on the Sting (a lesser-known tune from this writer and an exceptionally fine one with pertinent words which are a reminder that a lot of love lyrics fail to be this contemporary), and the saxophonist and singer do some nice back and forth on the Jobim.

The band is real class, Calderazzo and Faulkner turbulent when they need to be, sedate when it suits.

For me the real highlights, with a possible third in Practical Arrangement, are the two originals: Marsalis’s Cassandra Song and Calderazzo’s The Return (Upward Spiral), both with lyrics from Elling. Perhaps there is potential for another collaboration along those lines.

Categories: CD review

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