In a world that has been inundated by the bubbly and sometimes boring sound of smooth jazz, it is refreshing to hear music that is uniquely qualified to be traditional. Although saxophonist Marcus Strickland has a special vibe about him, his talent is obscured by the modern day recommendations of commercialized jazz pirates. For many who equate these inferences with laid-back instrumentals, Strickland and his quartet, as well as the Twi-Life Group, plow the fields of jazz with a constructive and intuitively correct style of play. As proponents of the Wayne Shorter Jazz Order, Marcus Strickland and his band make every effort to stay close to the intuitive creative flow that comes from within. Their latest CD entitled Twi-Life (Strick Muzik) is a reflection of what it means to return to the basics. For true jazz aficionados, listening to the acoustical display driven by The Marcus Strickland Quartet and the group Twi-Life, music in the bebop and post bop tradition is doing quite well.
Twi-Life is a two-CD recording that not only reflects upon the style of Wayne Shorter, but the set allows Marcus Strickland to speak his own mind as well. With two previous releases behind him, Strickland debuts under his own label with 17 compelling tracks of finely tuned originals and covers. With a career that has crossed the paths of Dave Douglas, Jeff "Tain" Watts and Roy Haynes, Marcus has only just begun to gel. Without a doubt, Twi-Life was an ambitious project to undertake as a label launch and two unmistakably different bands; however, the collective chemistry between Strickland and company sends an undeniable message. This recording is a true original and stays close to artistic impression. In addition, the inclusion of pianist Robert Glasper, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer E.J. Strickland provide a nice backdrop for Marcus. Incidentally, E.J. is Marcus’ twin brother, which in a small way makes Twi-Life a family affair.
On the first CD, there are seven original songs and one cover. The compositional expertise displayed by Strickland as a bop practitioner is amazing. As this is the beginning saga, as imagined by Marcus, musical parameters are well established. What is duly noted from the onset is Robert Glasper’s piano placement as a strategic part of Twi-Life’s repertoire. With Marcus driving the melody on saxophone, Robert’s percussive piano licks augment the album’s overall concept quite well. Another stellar addition is E.J.’s drum antics. He and Glasper play up the rhythmic influences of the album, allowing Marcus Strickland to shine throughout the process. On a track entitled "Thump & Cadence," a Strickland original composition, the quartet has some very interesting happenings going on. Glasper’s effervescent piano provides the framework for a saxophone excursion of sight and sound, as the drummer and bassist Vicente Archer run percussive interference. Other tracks which include "Sesame Street," "Brooklyn Street Fair," and "The Whole Page" display the band’s interactive methodology. Their fast track into the fray of mutual interaction provides another perspective of sorts, but no matter how it's played, CD #1 sets a standard that evolves into the next phase.
Just as CD #1 set the standard according to the Marcus Strickland Quartet’s formula for bop interpretation, disc 2 cements it in to place with the Twi-Life Group. This time out, Marcus invites guitarist Lage Lund, electric bassist Brad Jones, and his brother on drums again to explore nine successive tracks with a seemingly different path. There appears to be a stylized approach to jazz with varying musical styles that are truly tied to the bop tradition, with a small helping of mainstream jazz attached. With the talents of Lund and Jones behind him, the melodies are more advanced. Another perspective places E.J. Strickland even farther into the forefront as the group takes a more fluid-like approach. On one track in particular entitled "In Faith," Twi-Life’s melodic influences ebb and flow like the evening tide. Another cut entitled "The Nottage Cottage" makes a similar statement, but with a more upbeat approach. But in every aspect of Twi-Life’s jaunt through jazz, Marcus Strickland’s compositional vision never crosses over into contemporary characterization. Just as the first CD sent a message of creativity, the second is just as dynamic in approach, but with a less abstract flavor attached.
Marcus Strickland is well on his way to becoming one of the finest jazz musicians of his time. His brilliant compositional skills and his unique sound keeps the door open to traditional jazz as an art form. In these definite and trying times for ‘America’s most original art form," finding a platform to speak from becomes increasingly difficult; however, Marcus Strickland’s talent will always find a way to be heard.