Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Love Supreme

I stumbled across this the other day, while searching for another Branford Marsalis link to email to a friend. How I managed to avoid seeing it all these years is anyone's guess. I once had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Marsalis in a trio configuration (with Jeff "Tain' Watts, also featured here, though his piano player, Kenny Kirkland, was away touring with Sting) at the University of Memphis Field House (a glorified gymnasium) with my dad, very shortly after arriving back from Japan in 1990. The acoustics were terrible, and the audience was mostly comprised of over-excited young African-American students, who had clearly come to hear the theme from the Spike Lee film "Mo' Better Blues," which was immensely popular at the time. In contrast, here was the intellectual, musicologically-minded Branford, intent on doing his thing, with a piano-less trio. I recall a particularly challenging 15-minute rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Garden of Souls," which left the audience fidgeting and chatting loudly. After a few numbers, punctuated by incessant requests for the hit song, Branford finally lost his cool, albeit in a very cool manner. I recall him saying to the restless audience, in a clearly frustrated, but very measured, way, "We're going to play what you want to hear, but first we're going to play what we like, because this music is important, and you need to hear it."

This is an audacious and stunningly heartfelt interpretation of perhaps the jazz cannon's most intense and deepest work. As all worthy interpretations should, this one takes a lot of liberties, while remaining unwaveringly true to the spirit of the original. It is 17 minutes longer than the original album, and in some ways is more intense. The musicianship throughout is impeccable all around, though for my money, the real stand-out is Jeff "Tain" Watts, who is, in technical musicological parlance, "a motherfucker."

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