Branford releases his long awaited collection of ballads...
Martin Longley 2004
Coming as a complete contrast to the saxophonist's often turbulent output in recent years, Eternal is a collection of introspective ballads. Marsalis states that he's primarily concerned with the naked emotional content of these selections. He isn't weighed down by the responsibility of adhering too slavishly to their melodic core.
Each quartet member contributes their own composition, and these are topped up by three less obvious standards. Marsalis is supremely relaxed throughout, reflecting with a calm grace. The album's packaging underlines this mood with its photograph of what looks like a waterfall of light. On the reverse, Branford is sitting on a garden bench, contemplating the natural universe.
The album is dedicated to the memory of a whole load of the recently departed, some of the more famed being Ray Charles, Elvin Jones, Steve Lacy and Malachi Favors.
"The Ruby And The Pearl" makes a slow glide, imbued with a laid-back Cuban feel, as Joey Calderazzo paces through an elegant piano solo that acts as a pathway for the leader's pointillist soprano curlings. Drummer Jeff 'Tain' Watts offers the romantically gloomy "Reika's Loss", which is followed by "Gloomy Sunday", Marsalis switching to tenor, darkening the mood with the threat of power soon to be unleashed. This is an intense strength that doesn't require speed, aggressive attack or extreme notes to make its mark. Watts rotates around his deep toms, creating a stormy swell. Branford enunciates slowly, with tender vibrato. The players are sensitised to the spaces that lie between each other.
Calderazzo's "The Lonely Swan" inhabits a single plane, without undergoing much development, but is blessed with an evocative nature. A ballroom reverb pervades "Dinner For One, Please, James", as Marsalis enters Coleman Hawkins territory.
The album's eighteen minute title track is dedicated to Branford's wife Nicole. The saxophonist insists on taking his time, nuzzling away quietly before eventually building up to a passionate surge, then becoming tranquil for its closing passage.
The listener can find solace in misery; melancholy can be an attractive proposition. There are many ballad albums that can run the risk of erring towards mellow blandness, but this disc knows the secret of romantic wistfulness. Its bittersweet mixture of desolation and ecstasy is finely balanced.