AllMusic Album Review
Since the mid-'80s, Branford Marsalis has led various incarnations of his quartet, issuing a bevy of highly inventive and playful albums like Random Abstract, Crazy People Music, and Braggtown, all of which showcase his love of swinging acoustic jazz and dynamic group interplay. 2019's The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul is no exception and finds the saxophonist balancing an expressive maturity with a continued sense of fun. Following up 2012's Four MFs Playin' Tunes, as well their 2016 Kurt Elling collaboration Upward Spiral, this iteration of the quartet features pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner (who replaced Jeff "Tain" Watts in 2009). Together, they play with a deft abandon that often borders on focused chaos. The best example of this here is the Revis-penned "Dance of the Evil Toys," a kinetic snowplow of free group improv that brings to mind Ornette Coleman. Interestingly, most of the other extroverted moments are cover songs. Marsalis dives into Keith Jarrett's "The Windup," accenting the pianist's already exuberant song with a roiling second line-meets-gospel groove that sounds like Dave Brubeck on thick caffeine. Similarly, they tackle Andrew Hill's "Snake Hip Waltz," playing gleefully within the track's off-kilter, 3/4 buoyancy and bluesy, Parisian sophistication. While post-bop dynamism is certainly one of Marsalis' fortes, he's also a deeply emotive and lyrical performer, something that colors much of his work here. "Conversation Among the Ruins" is a deeply elegiac ballad by Calderazzo that's rife with classical intonations and ends in double time swing. Marsalis even pays tribute to his late mother, Dolores Marsalis, who passed away in 2017, dedicating his song "Life Filtering from the Water Flowers" to her. It starts out as a ruminative tone poem as Marsalis' sax emerges from a silent fog, only to be joined by his bandmates in a spiral of joyful purpose. Equally mutative is Revis' "Nilaste," a harmonically nuanced minor noir in which the band investigate the song's dark shadows before exploding into the light. It's that dynamic balance, so organic to Marsalis' group, that illuminates all of The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul.
4 1/2 Stars