4'5 stars on November's Downbeat Magazine
Blame our collective short attention span or a jazz variation of the starmaking machinery that dominates mainstream pop music, but it seems we always have space for just one or two saxophonists in the spotlight. That needs to change, and there’s no better example of why than Marcus Strickland. Even with high-profile gigs with leaders like Dave Douglas and Roy Haynes, he’s flown a bit under the radar. This double CD—his fourth release on his own label and seventh overall—should serve notice: Marcus Strickland is a major talent as both an instrumentalist and a composer. Divided into studio and live sets, Triumph Of The Heavy is notable for the Strickland’s recording debut on alto—his first horn—and a DIY ethic that finds him writing all but two of the 17 compositions, mixing the audio and designing the artwork. The flyspeck font he chose for his liner notes is one of his few missteps.
The live set, a highly varied 70 minutes recorded at Firehouse 12 in May 2010, showcases the hand-in-glove movement of Strickland’s regular trio: twin brother E.J. on drums and Ben Williams (“our missing triplet”) on bass. Piano-less/sax-led trios will always draw comparisons to Sonny Rollins’, but, although he can go there—an outrageously over-the-top soprano solo on Jaco Pastorius’ “Portrait Of Tracy” is perhaps the closest—playing against that stereotype are the moody, dark-hued “A Memory’s Mourn” and the meaty, rangy “Prime,” with an outstanding solo from Williams. What strikes most here is the trio’s ability to seem drumhead tight yet very loose, and to appear like they are simultaneously telescoping and collapsing genres. On “Surreal,” for example, Williams swings deep while E.J. smashes cymbal sprays and Marcus pulls out soprano lines that reference bop, free-bop and urban-inflected timing.
In the studio eight months later, Strickland adds pianist David Bryant, who introduces himself on the hard-charging “Lilt” as a cross between McCoy Tyner and Jason Moran— very percussive, with some interesting harmonic ideas. Right away, the leader changes things up, serving an unexpected, short ballad as a second course—a delicious tenor and arco bass duet at the center of it. Equally novel, and brief, is “Virgo,” featuring a chorus of overdubbed clarinets and saxes. Time and again, it’s Strickland’s ability to defy expectations and change his approach that is so winning. The slow, rolling and soulful pace of “Dawn,” with an ideal amount of wide vibrato on the soprano sax is the perfect balance for the bold alto and multiple tempo changes of “A Temptress’ Gait.” —James Hale
Marcus Strickland, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone,tenor saxophone, clarinet
David Bryant, piano (1–10)
E.J. Strickland, drums
A Temptress’ Gait
Bolt Bus Jitter
A Memory’s Mourn
Portrait Of Tracy