Having already recorded with bassist Lonnie Plaxico and the Sharp Nine Class of 2001, tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland makes his debut as a leader with AT LAST. This recording also introduces his working group, consisting of his twin brother, drummer E. J. Strickland, bassist Brandon Owens, and pianist Robert Glasper. On this recording they perform 7 original compositions, a lesser known Wayne Shorter gem, and a Joe Henderson classic, with the results being most satisfying.
The group’s members, all in their early twenties, are former classmates at New York’s New School of Social Research. Despite their youth they have already shared bandstands with some of jazz’s finest. Marcus tours the world as a member of Plaxico’s group and is also a member of jazz legend Roy Haynes’ quartet. I have actually seen E. J. provide the spark for guitarist Russell Malone’s quartet and Owens’ big toned bass anchoring tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield’s roof raising sextet, while Glasper has performed with the likes of Christian McBride and Louis Hayes. But as the Marcus Strickland Quartet they have their own group identity, and the sound they create here is an important part of this recording’s success.
Another thing I really enjoyed about AT LAST is the quality of the original compositions, which are characterized by interesting melodies, shifting meters, hummable piano-bass vamps, and other surprising twists. Marcus contributes the title track, "When In Doubt", and "Gar-zone", all uptempo, and "The Ninth Life", a beautiful ballad. Glasper contributes "Three For Her" a lovely medium tempo waltz, and the aptly titled "Joy Song", while E. J. contributes "February 21", featuring Marcus’ only appearance on soprano sax. Even the 2 non-originals are given fresh reworkings. Wayne Shorter’s "Iris" originally performed as a ballad, begins with a sax-piano intro before settling into some serious uptempo burn, while Joe Henderson’s "Serenity" is taken at a more relaxed pace than the original.
AT LAST is an excellent debut from a talented group of musicians. One can only hope that, in this era of few working bands, these young men can find the time to play together as their individual careers grow and continue to create timeless music as they do on this recording.