There’s a section of my Darius Jones profile from BA #2 where he and I talk about other saxophonists, most of whom play more mainstream stuff than he does. It’s not an occasion for some Matthew Shipp-style diatribe action, but there are some criticisms leveled, by him and by me. Here is some of it:

At the time he and I had this conversation, I was in the middle of a several weeks-long stint of listening to Branford Marsalis—nearly a dozen albums, starting with 1987’s Random Abstract and all the way up to 2009’s Metamorphosen. I was trying to decide whether or not to pursue the saxophonist for an in-depth interview. And/but the impression I was coming away with was one of facile stunts and pastiche. It was as if Marsalis was looking sly and sidelong at an imaginary listener and saying, “Here comes the Ornette Coleman-style tune; now here comes the Coltrane-style tune; now here comes the Sonny Rollins-style tune,” and on and on. I couldn’t get a grip on who Branford Marsalis was, other than a guy who could do almost anything on the horn and was red-hot to demonstrate that fact. I never heard anything that sounded like raw creation, or like something he was compelled to play; nothing that sounded like he could not possibly, at risk of his very soul, have played any other note at that moment.
“I grew up on Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis, dude,” says Jones with a laugh.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to be when I was a kid.” Then there’s a pause. “This is the thing. Branford Marsalis is a great saxophone player, man. And I think what he did for that scene is, he kind of freed people up to be open to a lot of things and to really master the horn. I’m gonna get into so much trouble with this interview…do I feel like Branford Marsalis really plays super creative shit?”
Another, longer pause.
A burst of laughter.
“No, he doesn’t. If you’re a kid and you hear that shit, yes, you’re like ‘Fuck, that’s it.’ Branford doesn’t not do it for me. I’m gonna flip it and say his brother, Wynton, can do some shit that flips me out. Wynton can take some solos that are literally mind-bogglingly gnarly, just from a structural standpoint, how he’s building a solo and taking it into certain places. He’s utilizing the lineage of [the trumpet] in a deep-ass way. Branford gets on this cliché type of thing sometimes, like pastiche, ‘I’m gonna let you know that I know this.’”

So here’s what I’m saying about that conversation now. Those Marsalis albums I was listening to (The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, Braggtown, Contemporary Jazz, Crazy People Music, The Dark Keys, Eternal, Metamorphosen, Music From Mo’ Better Blues, Random Abstract, Requiem and Trio Jeepy) are all still in my iPod, months later. I still go back to them. And there’s a lot there. If I hadn’t thought there was a lot there, I wouldn’t have been considering profiling Marsalis for Burning Ambulance. (Hell, I’m still thinking about it; I’d really like to talk to the guy about his creative process.) All I’m saying is at that time, I couldn’t get past the stuff that was lifted, the quotations and style-copping. So when you read the whole article, don’t come at me like I’m some knee-jerk hater. Beyond that, I refer you to Nate Chinen.

Phil Freeman

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