Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Downbeat: Branford Proves for At Least the Tenth Time Since "Ken Burns' Jazz" That Wynton Isn't the Only Arrogant Jerk in the Marsalis Family

I'm sitting here, watching "Tonight's the Night-" the episode of Doogie Howser, M.D. where Doogie and Wanda finally (almost, at least) get it on- trying to get the bad taste from this month's Downbeat out of my mouth, and let me be honest; its not working. And I really, really want to get the image of Branford Marsalis egotistically grinning at me on the cover out of my head.

The Marsalises are sort of like the Doogie Howsers of the jazz world; they became very prominent figures at a very young age, and, like Doogie Howser, decided not to have sex in their teen years and thus have spent the time since being tight-assed, arrogant shmucks, espousing their "genius" (much like Doogie) to anyone who'll listen. Granted, the metaphor only holds up for so long- I don't think anybody left a baby on Wynton's doorstep, and that the baby's mother is smokin'- but I think you see the point. When Branford supplies the name of his own article in Downbeat, and the article is called- this is not a joke- "WE DO THINGS BETTER THAN ANY BAND OUT HERE," I like to think its important to note Doogie Howser's assurance to a patient that "you could get an older doctor, but he wouldn't be as brilliant as me."

First of all, I'd like to know what exactly the Branford Marsalis Quartet does better than any band out there (I guess it does cover "A Love Supreme" better than any of those other bands, but then again the rest of them don't have the hubris to try); does anyone honestly believe that Marsalis' band can hold a candle to other small combos like Dave Holland's Quintet, or the Wayne Shorter Quartet, or the long running incarnation of the Paul Motian Trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano? I mean, Branford does a great job of sounding like Coltrane, or Sonny Rollins, whenever he wants to, but musical impersonation is hardly all there is to being a great saxophone player.

Branford needs to learn that the novelty of being a 16 year old doctor- excuse me, the novelty of being the brother of a 16 year old doctor- wow, I've just got my foot in my mouth today- being the brother of a child prodigy messiah figure trumpet player who really wasn't that great to begin with- has worn off, and that he's going to have to find his own sound and stop it with this tomfoolery. Those of you who watched Ken Burns Jazz probably remember him calling Cecil Taylor's music "self-indulgent bullshit." Why Ken Burns gave the Marsalis brothers a soapbox beyond Lincoln Center still confounds me, but as far as I'm concerned people like Burns and Ted Panken (the Downbeat writer behind this article) are enablers. Maybe if Branford stopped constantly being told how great he was he (and gratuitous pulitzer prize winning Wynton) would actually fulfill on his promise and make some good music.

To paraphrase the film critic Roger Ebert from his brilliant review of "Southland Tales," if you thought that was just a rant as opposed to a real entry, you are correct. Next time I promise there will be more record reviews (I would have reviewed Vijay Iyer's "Tragicomic," but my local CD store hasn't shelved it yet). In the mean time, don't buy anything by Branford, or his Quartet. Don't encourage him.

1 comment:

Dajubo said...

If Branford is not 100% correct in his comments, he's damn close. I'm willing to bet that Dave Holland or some of those other cats also feel the same way about their own bands. Your post seems to a response to some deep-seeded hatred on your part of anything Marsalis. You, like a lot of others, seem to judge the Marsalis on positions they had 20-plus years ago, as immature teenagers, rather than based upon what they are all about now. Yes, Branford may have an arrogant stance about the merits of his band, but I can assure you that his arrogance is tempered with equal doses of humility.