Produced by Branford Marsalis
Additional production Matthew Backer, L. Carl Burnett, Rob "Wacko!" Hunter
Recorded and Mixed by Rob "Wacko!" Hunter
Recorded at Sound on Sound Studios and Manhattan Center Studios, NYC
About the Album
"Add a little this...take out a little that..."
Weaving together jazz, R&B, rock and hip-hop, the music of Buckshot LeFonque has always defied categorization (an unpardonable sin in some quarters). But that's just the way an ensemble of merry pranksters like Buckshot LeFonque prefer it. It was two years ago when saxophonist/composer Branford Marsalis first got together with some of his musically like-minded friends to form Buckshot LeFonque and record their debut album. Now the band is back with Music Evolution, an album as indefinable as its predecessor, yet even more thrilling.
Though BLF blends many musical styles, the connective tissue underlying the new album's twelve tracks is apparent. "We love music," says Branford, "and this is how we listen to music. I don't listen only to opera or jazz or hip-hop. I listen to all of it. So I like to surround myself with people who feel the same way. "Those people include a handful of top musicians including DJ Apollo, singer/keyboardist Frank McComb, guitarist Carl Burnett, trumpeter Russell Gunn, bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Rocky Bryant, and rapper 50 Styles: the Unknown Soldier. Guest players include Delfeayo Marsalis playing a mean trombone on a pair of tracks, alto sax great David Sanborn, rapper G.U.R.U., and Branford's former wife Tess giving an evocative reading of "Weary With Toil," and original poem by Delfeayo, set to music by Branford.
Largely written and produced by Branford (who also programmed drums and, of course, played saxophones) Music Evolution kicks off with the jazz/hip-hop flavored title track, which salutes great artists past and present, from Satchmo to Calloway. Says rapper 50 Styles of the song, "Music just comes from the music before it. If you love jazz, how can you not love hip-hop when both are just branches from a tree?" BLF then masterfully combines funk, jazz, and hip-hop in "James Brown-Part 1 & 2," a tribute to the Godfather of Soul. The hyperactive "Jungle Grove" is patterned after the jungle music craze sweeping Europe, and features the smokingest horn parts this side of the Cotton Club.
That's just the instrumentals. Then there's the trilogy of R&B ballads - "Another Day," "Better Than I Am," and "Phoenix" - all sung by the Cleveland-born vocal sensation Frank McComb, and each a souvenir of real life heartbreak. That all three are tales of loss, rather than cooing love songs, says something about Branford's approach to songwriting. "I asked myself, 'Do I want to write songs for the average 17-year-old, songs that talk about love in a lighthearted way?' I decided not to play it safe, and to write lyrics from an adult perspective." Adds McComb, "Branford's one of those writers with whom I can really feel what he's trying to do." That certainly shows in his performance.
"Another Day" marks another first for Branford. "This was the first string arrangement I ever did, " he says. "Conducting the orchestra was nerve-wracking but fun. I told them it was my first time and to be gentle with me. " The blazing rock 'n' rap track "My Way (Doin' It)" features Carl Burnett on guitar and an undeniably cool spoken word bridge performed by actor Laurence Fishburn. In "Black Monday," rappers 50 Styles: The Unknown Soldier and G.U.R.U. document, in rap, the Million Man March. Says 50 Styles of the song's hard-hitting contemporary message, "With my style of rap, I try to deal with today's issues, because you can't run from them."
This band has never tried to run from them. The members come from widely diverging backgrounds yet find common ground within Buckshot LeFonque. "You might get on the tour bus one day and hear Italian opera; the next day you're hearing hip-hop." Singer Frank McComb agrees. "Everybody gets to stretch out in his own way," he says. "Everybody is an artist in this band and not just a backer. We're all loose, free and easy."
Music Evolution may swing with abandon, yet Branford remains one of today's most reflective and decisive musical thinkers. He has never suffered fools gladly, and for that he has taken much heat over the years. Yet he has always put the ideals of good music above personality. "If you look historically at the number of artists who were popular in their day but who were no good, you'll find they were in the vast majority, " says Branford. "I don't get the feeling that most of the groups that are successful today will stand the test of time."
With every project he undertakes, whether pop, jazz, or undefined, Branford stresses that the music matters most, as his colleagues are quick to point out. "He expects the best from each cat," say McComb, " and I can respect that. He knows what he likes." The same can easily be said of every member of Buckshot LeFonque. This time around, they turned in an album for the ages. When it comes to Music Evolution, it's all about survival of the phattest.