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Best Kept Secret: Hear the First Song From a New Album by the Branford Marsalis Quartet

OKeh Records / Sony Music Masterworks
The Branford Marsalis Quartet: Eric Revis, Justin Faulkner, Joey Calderazzo, Marsalis

When we last heard from saxophonist Branford Marsalis, he was touring behind Upward Spiral, a 2016 collaboration with Kurt Elling. That album featured Elling’s vocals out front, with Marsalis and his quartet playing a strong backing role.

The band — a longtime unit with Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums — is poised to reclaim the center spotlight with a new studio album, The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul. Due out March 1 on OKeh Records, it will the first Branford Marsalis Quartet release in nearly seven years, since the rather less loftily titled Four MFs Playin’ Tunes.

Credit Eric Ryan Anderson

In a press statement, Marsalis reflects on what he and the band learned from their experience with Elling — among other things, a focus on concision, and the primacy of melody. “The guys in the band hadn’t been in that position for a long time, either,” he adds, “and it totally changed how we play. We became tighter, because it was more about what we could do to support.”

The new album was recorded during a break on the road in Melbourne, Australia last year. Along with a mysterious, elegiac ballad by Marsalis (“Life Filtering from the Water Flowers”), it has two originals apiece by Revis and Calderazzo, members of the band for the last 20 years. There’s also an effervescent new take on the 1970s Keith Jarrett Quartet classic “The Windup.”  

And the first taste of the album is “Snake Hip Waltz,” which we’re proud to feature here, in an exclusive premiere.

“Snake Hip Waltz” is a composition by pianist Andrew Hill, who made it the lead track on his 1975 album Divine Revelation. That version is set at a jauntier tempo, with a rolling time feel. Marsalis and crew slow it down slightly, just enough to imply a more muscular curvature to the groove. There’s an intimation of New Orleans swing at the outset of the track, though the band stretches that frame during the solos — first saxophone, then piano, then bass.

“My approach in both writing and soloing is melodic and rhythmic, with harmony third,” Marsalis says in the album press release. “We mold the harmony to the melody, where too many people let the harmony dictate. And we play in the cracks. I want to channel that vibe of all the great music I’ve heard, but to apply my own ideas.”

The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul will be released on March 1, and is available for preorder. The Branford Marsalis Quartet is now on tour.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.