Oh, if I only I had been smart enough to continue those clarinet lessons in grade school. Maybe I’d have a niche all my own like Todd Marcus. Well, it’s not all his own -- there are other contemporary purveyors of the instrument - but the Baltimore-based Marcus has fashioned a career on the bass clarinet of blending traditional bebop and swing with some world music touches that make him deserving of wider recognition. A sampling of his CD, "in Pursuit of the 9th Man," on HiPNOTIC Records label shows off his skills as a composer and arranger as well as a musician.
A "theme" disc, that begins with a brief, mood setting intro that fades into the snappy title tune, and ends with "Psalm," Marcus’ initial orchestra recording has all the colors of the rainbow and then some. It is entertaining in many places, quiet and too movie-theme sounding in others. But it certainly bears listening for anyone interested in a forward-looking perspective of our legacy-soaked genre. Marcus, self-taught as a player, composer and arranger, says his influences include Eric Dolphy and "so many of the masters like Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Gary Thomas, Charlie Parker, Gary Bartz, Kenny Dorham, Herbie Hancock, Woody Shaw, Sonny Rollins .... "
The title tune, "In Pursuit of the 9th Man," is carried early by Marcus’ own fluid, whipping lines over the brassy sax and trumpet choruses, and Joel Holmes’ work on piano. Then the arrangement has the other horns lead while Marcus helps accent underneath Marcus blends the Middle East with bop expertly on "Ma’aelssalama," which pays homage to his heritage, since his father is Egyptian and Marcus has traveled there several times. Issa Lambson on alto sax highlights "Harper’s Choice," - which has world music spices of its own, and is a deftly swinging homage to tenor sax innovator Billy Harper. Lyle Link shines as the tenor sax soloist on "Plummeting," possibly the most sparkling arrangement of the CD, with some crisp, efficiently bopping work by Mike Kuhl on drums. Trumpeter Theljon James and tenor sax man Russell Kirk highlight the lilting "If I Should Lose You" along with Marcus’ smooth bass clarinet lines. The brassy front line of the orchestra also features bassist Jeff Alan Reed, trombonist Reginald and Raul Soot on tenor sax.
With as much spice and promise as "in Pursuit of the 9th Man" has, some of the CD has more ruminative, exploratory tunes that don’t seem that different from others. Some of that just may be a first CD’s stepping a toe into the waters and wishing to display touch more than sass. Regardless, there is enough here, such as the sweeping "Pompeii," - for those of us who like our orchestras with a lot of sass - that shifts gears, rumbles, pops and then takes it to a higher level, as Marcus plays the swing, the blues and the bebop - sometimes all in one chorus. Kuhl and Holmes also sparkle along with Cyntje and Reed, a master of touch the whole way through, and who maybe deserves even more space for his bass.
"In Pursuit" is a fine beginning in the recording world for Marcus, who plays in combos as well as orchestra settings in his live dates often around the Baltimore/Washington area and up the coast to New York. He’ll no doubt be carving out a wider space of his own with his unique treatments on an instrument known more for flavoring than for innovating.