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Music Review: Branford Marsalis – Metamorphosen

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Branford Marsalis burst onto the jazz scene in the early 80s as part of the young lions movement. The young lions were a group of young jazz musicians that revitalized the genre with a return to the form of the modern jazz in the 50s and 60s. Branford, along with other Marsalis brothers, were important members of this movement.  Since then Branford has released a string of albums of nearly uniform great quality. None of what I heard from Branford has strayed far from his original sound (though I have not nearly heard all of his prolific output ). Most of his work stays in the hard-bop style, the abstract jazz sound that can be said to “swing” or to “blow”. 

What sets Branford apart from his musical influences, and even his most famous brother Wynton, is his playfulness. The music sounds like Miles Davis of John Coltrane played with the mischievousness of Cannonball Adderley.

So how much of a metamorphosis is Metamorphosen? It is a departure from his previous work, but not a dramatic one.  On a few tracks such as “The Blossom of Parting” and “the Last Goodbye” Branford is more solemn.  There is a clear classical music influence on these tracks and they are more piano heavy.  The classical and jazz elements mesh well on these tracks, resulting in mournful jazz tracks, not obvious experiments. 

“And Then, He Was Gone” is Branford being a bit more experimental. It is a three minute bass solo. This somehow manages to avoid being boring or excessively showy.

On other tracks, the music has not changed, but he seems more playful than ever. You can tell simply by track titles like “Return of the Jitney Man” and “Abe Vigoda”.

Reviewing a jazz album is a bit like reviewing an abstract painting. The normal parameters of criticism do not apply and analyzing technique is nearly futile.  I know a little about music theory but I cannot really speak about how the time signatures, chord progressions, or modalities affect the quality of this album.

What I can say is this. Branford’s band is as tight as ever.  Like the best jazz, the songs on Metamorphosen evoke a mood.  If you have liked Branford’s earlier work, you will almost assuredly enjoy this.  If you are a jazz fan that has never heard Branford Marsalis before this is a good place to start, but so are some of his other albums.  If you are not a jazz fan, this is a decent introduction. It is reasonably accessible without being dumbed down.

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About Mark Kalriess