Marcus Strickland, Triumph of the Heavy (SMK).
In the liner notes, saxophonist Strickland writes, “Playing for a live audience heightens the adrenaline; you don’t have the luxury of correcting mistakes. It puts you on a high wire.” The second of the album’s two CDs, a club recording, captures his trio’s risk-taking and underlines the influence of an audience that truly listens. Strickland, his twin brother E.J. on drums and Ben Williams on bass hold the crowd’s attention and seem to thrive on its approval. In his work with Roy Haynes, Dave Douglas and Charles Tolliver, and on his own, Strickland has steadily developed as a creator of articulate solos. On tenor sax in the trio setting, it may be inevitable that he invites comparisons with Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, but there is little here to suggest that he is imitating them. Indeed, to single out two tenor performances, on “Mudbone” and “Prime” his brawny solos are free of quotes and of clichés, his own or anyone else’s. If the Stricklands’ tight interaction arises from their life as twins, it is enchanced by their musicianship. With his brother comping on saxophone, E.J. has a taut drum solo on the lengthy “Prime,” following an impressive Williams bass solo. In Jaco Pastorius’s “Portrait of Tracy,” Marcus Strickland takes a stabbing, pointillist approach on soprano as he spars with E.J.’s drums. It is one of only two pieces in the album that he didn’t write.
The first CD, made in a studio, adds David Bryant, a pianist who knows his McCoy Tyner but is most interesting when he works his own sparser harmonic ground. Bryant’s fleet solo on “’Lectronic,” strictly acoustic despite its name, is a highlight of his work here. In addition to soprano and tenor, Strickland plays alto saxophone and bass clarinet. Overdubbed, he uses all of them in the imaginative ensemble he wrote for Karriem Riggins’ “Virgo,” but solos—forcefully—only on tenor. On alto sax in five of this CD’s 10 pieces, Strickland has a tone notable for its depth and butteriness. In the pieces playing alto and soprano, he frequently achieves heaviness, in the sense of density and profundity. Yet, it is on tenor, the larger horn, that he is most often triumphant, weightless and free.
A note about the package: Strickland designed it and did the art work. He chose for the liner notes what appears to be 6-point type. Get out your magnifying glass.