It’s been far too long since my last post, but more on that later. Today I’ll be reviewing Branford Marsalis’ 1987 album Random Abstract. This album is one I rarely hear many people talk about and that’s a shame. This album is daring, energetic, and the virtuosity of the musicians only drives this point home. With Branford Marsalis on sax, Lewis Nash on drums, Delbert Felix on bass, and Kenny Kirkland on piano, this album is a sign of things to come from Branford Marsalis and his group.
This album begins with the tune “Yes Or No” which was composed by Wayne Shorter. This tune is a perfect fit for this album it’s a fast, high energy song. This tune establishes the mood for the album and pays tribute to jazz legend Wayne Shorter. The tune starts the same as the original perhaps even with a bit more aggression in the beginning of the melody. After the head, Branford wastes no time and begins to shed immediately. The chords are flying by as the comping on piano is short and quick while Branford just shreds running eighth note lines with a few breaks in between lines. This tune may overwhelm you at first, but give it a couple listens. After a few times through you’ll notice the intricacies in the comping, the rhythms Kirkland plays, and the conversation he’s having with Branford during his solo.
After Branford’s solo Kirkland solos on piano. I absolutely love this solo. He plays lots of pentatonic stuff which reminds me of McCoy Tyner. Plenty of bebop language in Kirkland’s solo and he adds some harmonic ideas midway into his solo as well which is a nice change of pace and sounds great after all those burning lines. After Kirkland solos we go back to the head and conclude the tune. This seems appropriate for this song. With so much going on in the two solos I think a bass or drum solo would have been overkill. The tune ends giving us plenty to listen to and clocks in at 6:45.
Next, is a tune called “Crescent City” and was composed by Branford Marsalis himself. The head is quite interesting as it starts with an intro where Marsalis riffs, while cymbals crash and chords just flutter on the piano. This is followed by the bass taking control and leading us into the melody. Then Marsalis comes in again and the track begins to swing. Kirkland then begins to solo over the progression. Kirkland dominates this track as he solos for quite a bit of time. Again, another tune that will take a couple listens to get comfortable with. Especially with so many choruses on piano. It’s easy to get lost and kind of “zone out” as a listener. Give it time, be patient, the end result and enjoyment you’ll have listening to this tune will be well worth it.
Marsalis takes over soloing duties after Kirkland’s solo and just kills it. Really builds up his solo nicely. A nice array of running lines, leaving space, and playing off of rhythmic ideas. He also allows for the rhythm section to help build his solo playing hits and letting it enhance his solo and our listening experience. After the solos are done the head is played again. Take a listen and see if you can match up the beginning of the tune to the end. The more we understand the song’s structure the more likely we are to enjoy the music.
This album has nine tracks and all are well worth listening to. But, as usual, I will focus on one more tune and then leave the rest to you. So on that note let’s talk about “LonJellis”. This tune starts with a nice drum intro and some bass. As soon as Branford comes in the tune takes form. I love the hits that are played by the rhythm section along with the melody, it really solidifies the groove. Marsalis takes an “out” solo, he steps out of the tonality a bit, and pushes the type of sounds he can get out of his sax. This changes how the bass walks and notice no piano comping on the solo? Very free jazzy. I think he didn’t want the chords to get in his way. Later on in the solo section the piano does comp, but its brief and he doesn’t just sit on a chord, he leaves plenty of space to not step on Branford’s toes. After his solo the head is played again and then we go into the piano solo. This is definitely a different way to play a tune. Usually it’s head-solo-head. To play head-solo-head-solo-head is definitely a bit odd. I feel like it fits for this song. Since it’s already being played with such an “out” feeling why not mess with the structure a bit? Kirkland definitely plays on the whole “out” concept lots of dissonance in his voicings and even in his melodic lines. After the solo we head back to the head for a third and final time and conclude the tune.
Overall I feel this album is adventurous and underrated. Marsalis releases a beauty with this one that hints at what he would later go on to create. As many of you know Branford Marsalis is one of the busiest jazz musicians alive today. Whenever he comes to your town check him out. It’s guaranteed to be a memorable performance and one of, if not the best concert you’ll ever attend. Again, I apologize about the delay in putting up a post. I will post a blog later this week explaining the new and exciting things happening with The Jazz Loop. Stay tuned…