The Dark Keys

Branford Marsalis Trio

Columbia, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on April 15, 1997]

One measure of a musician is quality; another is diversity. It's a real feat to be able to maintain high quality of the course of a lengthy career in the public eye/ear—and an even greater one to accomplish this while fearlessly attacking a variety of styles of music. Branford Marsalis has accomplished the latter handily in a career that, by the time of this album, had already spanned jazz tours with brother Wynton, a brief but memorable run at sophisticated pop music with Sting's first solo band, an album of romantic saxophone-and-classical ballads, multiple Grammy nominations, an uncomfortable but publicity-wise stint as Jay Leno's foil on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Tonight Show, appearances at Carnegie Hall, and a string of simply outstanding jazz quartet and trio albums.

The Dark Keys falls into the latter category, and maybe one of the warmest elements of this album—a surprisingly exuberant outing, given the title—is the family-affair feel it carries. Brother Delfeayo Marsalis produces the album and composes one track (the jumping, juking "Judas Iscariot"), brother Wynton contributes the aptly-named "Hesitation" (full of hitches and false starts, in between runs at a dynamite melody), and various other Marsalises (Jason, Ellis III, Wynton II, etc., etc... not to mention big daddy Ellis) are listed or thanked in the credits. As for the band, the Trio this time is Branford on tenor and soprano saxes, Reginald Veal on bass and veteran Marsalis sideman Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums.

The opening title tune comes on like a storm, with Branford's initial warning bleats swinging quickly into a rousing ten-minute jam featuring terrific work on the skins and cymbals from Watts. This track really personifies the beauty of jazz for me. It's the musical equivalent of abstract painting—melody may leak through here and there, and themes reveal themselves upon close listening, but the focus is on more elemental, organic notions of interplay and release among the players. It's music pulled from the soul, and on The Dark Keys, it is made with energy and genius by one of his generation's brightest musical lights.

Rating: A-

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