Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Branford Marsalis – The Steep Anthology (Columbia, 2004)

The Steep Anthology is a collection of the work that Branford Marsalis did while signed to the Columbia label in the 1980’s and 90’s. In a sense it is a summation of his work during the first phase of his career and also makes the case for him as one of the most inventive mainstream jazz musicians of the period. While his brother Wynton may have gained more attention by being retrogressive and backward looking, Branford was willing to experiment, digesting the music of Ornette Coleman and the funk and soul bands he listened to as a youth.

The music on this disc shows Branford in a variety of settings (but omits his funk-fusion outfit Buckshot LaFonque) from the retro New Orleans style of “Royal Garden Blues” to the ultra-modern composition “The Dark Keys.” Marsalis had a steady band during most of this period, made up of Kenny Kirkland on piano, Robert Hurst on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums.

Most of Branford’s records from this period are worth owning and if you already have them, this may not be an essential purchase. The only non-album addition to this collection is a wonderful live reading of Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.” But for those without a lot of the elder Marsalis in their collection, this makes for a great introduction – the playing is first-rate and the compositions worthwhile.

Rating: 9

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