by Michael Bowen
Branford and Wynton Marsalis are all about honoring jazz tradition. But Branford, more of a risk-taker, stretches more boundaries.
In the initial release of his Marsalis Music imprint, Branford pays tribute to Ornette Coleman ("Giggin'"), Sonny Rollins ("The Freedom Suite") and John Lewis ("Concorde"). But it's in his evocation of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme that the saxophonist takes the greatest chances and measures his greatest achievement.
In his cover of the first section ("Acknowledgment") of Coltrane's four-part religious suite, Marsalis matches the fervency of the original by taking a more insistent solo on tenor, then relaxing and taking up Trane's four-note theme from a different, more introspective angle. In place of Coltrane's droning chant of the title phrase, Eric Revis picks a slow, unadorned bass line that brings the movement's recognition of God's power to a breathless close.
Unexpectedly, in the opening to Part II, "Resolution," Marsalis offers up an obviously unresolved sax fanfare that yields to Joey Calderazzo's piano-swing, brighter and breezier than McCoy Tyner's comparable solo in the '64 original. Marsalis' fiery riffs later on are matched by the equally fiery drum work of Jeff "Tain" Watts, whose use of sticks and cymbals throughout is eye-opening. Watts stretches out what appeared to have been resolved into a further quest, suggesting that resolution won't be attained anytime soon.
Marsalis opts to link the four Supreme sections seamlessly, and Watts's drum solo picks up speed for the "Pursuance" of Part III. While staying recognizably within Coltrane's groove, Marsalis improvises some of his most inspired wailing on this pursuit, and the pace quickens yet again, especially on Calderazzo's piano.
Revis bridges sections again with his bass, and Part IV, "Psalm," relaxes into unaffected praise. With the turmoil of unbelief over, Marsalis wraps up his prayer more concisely than his predecessor.
In the prayer he wrote for his liner notes, Coltrane asserts that "One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God... everything does... ELATION - ELEGANCE - EXALTATION - All from God." In the homage he pays to his forebears' Footsteps, and especially in his respectful re-envisioning of A Love Supreme, Branford Marsalis makes us feel all three of those dimensions.