Of the Marsalis siblings, Branford has always been the most musically adventurous. This recklessness can be favorable, like on his collaborations with Sting, or 1992's blues-tinged I Heard You Twice the First Time. But there have been flops too. Buckshot La Fonque, his wacky hip-hop and jazz hybrid, was dreadful. Fortunately Marsalis has been on an upswing lately, and Braggtown, his latest, continues the saxophonist's streak. Superficially, it might seem like a mesh of suites and overtures, but Braggtown is really an old-fashioned blowing session where Marsalis and his longstanding rhythm section deviate from theme-driven recordings in favor of something fresh and unrestrained. As a bandleader, Marsalis has never been a grandstander, and so with this album you really sense each player's individual strengths. On "Fate," pianist Joey Calderazzo unleashes a deluge of notes, while drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts is a constant force throughout the record. As for Marsalis himself, he brings a tender, yet rambunctious quality to "Sir Roderick, the Aloof," a trait that has made him such a wonderful saxophonist. And yet, his solo on "Black Elk Speaks" is straight free jazz, with Marsalis playing notes sideways, upside down, and even inside out. It's the most wonderful thing about him his adventurous nature means you never really know what to expect.
Charles L. Latimer writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].