Marcus Strickland (ts, ss), Robert Glasper (p), Brandon Owens (b), E.J. Strickland (d)
Bar code: 8427328421010
Marcus says: "The quartet is not about self but the beauty of four souls as one. It has become our focus to create music that can be felt on spiritual level, and for two years we have been struggling then achieving, falling then rising, but through it all we have not lost focus of our vision."
It's interesting to know the opinion of one of today's greatest tenor players, Joshua Redman: "Marcus Strickland is one of the most creative, expresive and mature saxophonist of his generation. He is a daring improviser, a thoughtful storyteller and an astonishingly soulful musician."
"The Fresh Sound New Talent organization is an example of truth in labelling. The small, independent label, based in Barcelona, Spain, is becoming one of the most reliable sources in jazz for adventurous music played by promising young voices - like the debut recordings of David Weiss and Marcus Strickland.
Each of these albums sounds intensely current, yet each reflects a literate understanding of the history that most interests Weiss and Strickland, which is the Wayne Shorter school of musical indirection. The spirit of Shorter hovers over both of these projects. Weiss uses two very early Shorter compositions on 'Breathing Room', "Those Who Sit And Wait" from 1961 and "Armageddon" from 1964. On 'At Last', Strickland plays "Iris", written by Shorter for Miles Davis' 1965 album 'E.S.P.'
Weiss writes tunes with evocative melodic ambivalence and veering surprises amd hovering pedal points and metrical asymmetry, all qualities associated with the sensibility that Shorter brought to jazz. But Weiss does not repeat it; he expands upon it. Strickland's Shorter influence is more sublimated. His tenor saxophone sound is harder and fuller than Shorter's, for example, but he shares a taste for the chromatically oblique and the counter-intuitive.
Weiss does not dominate the solo space on 'Breathing Room', often allowing his saxophones or piano to go first. But when he steps out, his statements are finely crafted, like the careful, gradual ascent that he evolves on the title track. Marcus Strickland is a sideman on the Weiss date and he displays both the fervor of youth and the discipline and sophistication to function in a musical setting that requires him to look before he leaps, every time. Craig Handy makes the group a sextet on the four Weiss originals. Best known for his tenor work, he plays alto here and injects passion into Weiss' cerebral creative processes. His solo on "Getaway" is a paradigm of how to build a climax in a short space.
'Breathing Room' ends with a wildly tricky show-off tour de force called "Kickback", based on the chord changes to Joe Henderson's "The Kicker." It is a performance that suggests a bright future for David Weiss as trumpeter and composer and bandleader, and also creates curiosity about the Strickland twins. Marcus' twin brother, E.J., is the drummer on 'Breathing Room', and he exudes cocky authority supported by competence.
That curiosity is at least partially satisfied by Marcus' own recording, where brother E.J. fully asserts himself. 'At Last' is not as ambitious as the Weiss album in terms of total design, and is not as well recorded. But it demonstrates that the Strickland brothers are two of the most promising improvisers in jazz under the age of 25. In performances like the delicately detailed "Iris" and the convoluted yet graceful "Serenity" (by Joe Henderson), Marcus displays a gift for assembling long strings of ideas that spark with moment - by - moment spontaneity, governed by logic. As for E.J., he is the most exciting new drummer since Billy Kilson - and, going back further, like Tony Williams or Billy Higgins - E.J. can emit fields of cumulative energy, clouds of feather-touch and heavy-handed syncopations, latent with power like an oncoming storm."
—Thomas Conrad (July, 2002)
"If Marcus Strickland's blossoming artistry were judged on his sound alone, he would still merit the attention of the jazz community. That he is also a thoughtful composer and galvanizing force for a crack quartet of spirited young musicians are all the more reason to watch his every move.
Strickland possesses a gorgeous, soft tone on tenor that holds true even during his most complex linear explorations. He is influenced by Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, but while his playing can reach the same intensity as those legends, he works around the structure of a composition in a much smoother fashion. It's a precise sound mirrored by the playing of his group with brother E.J. Strickland on drums, Robert Glasper on piano and Brandon Owens on bass. These guys don"t play as much as they glide. On tracks like the disarmingly beautiful "The Ninth Life" and "Joy Song," Marcus spins off the melody and Robert Glasper's piano heightens the harmonic intensity as they transform each song into an exhilarating journey. On the unforgettable waltz "Three For Her," it"s a joy to hear the two trade melodic statements, particularly Glasper"s hypnotic, understated refrain.
One of the great pleasures of At Last is hearing E.J. Strickland, an inspired drummer in the Tony Williams mold, steer the tempo and guide these superbly crafted songs into new and exciting directions. E.J. is a man in constant motion. On many occasions, I was so entranced by his complex polyrhythms and delicate cymbal work that I kept repeating tracks over and over. Just when Marcus or Robert Glasper are off and running on challenging tracks like "At Last" and "The Ninth Life", E.J. will spur them on with this soft splash from the cymbals that sounds as if he's hitting an air brake. Like Kenny Clarke's "bombs" or Philly Joe's press rolls of the past, E.J. executes these splashes while in full motion, providing added momentum and pushing the soloists to greater heights.
Another striking aspect of At Last is how well conceived the compositions are. The changing tempos of songs like "The Ninth Life" shift from euphoria to melancholy with a natural grace that makes them feel as if they are one continuous emotion. There are surprises at every turn on songs like "When In Doubt" and "Joy Song." And whether tackling the hard-charging 60s Blue Note sound of "Gar-Zone" on tenor or the nocturnal beauty of "February 21" on soprano, Marcus Strickland"s solos are intelligently constructed and executed with passion.
I can't think of a song on At Last that won't stay in your head for days. Even the quartet's cover of Joe Henderson"s "Serenity" has a more memorable quality than the original. But what's most exciting about At Last is that it marks the arrival of a remarkable young saxophonist and one of the best new quartets in jazz. The telepathy between these players is not to be missed."
—Ken Hohman (All About Jazz)
"I like the irony in the title At Last (Fresh Sound New Talent) for the first album from saxist Marcus Strickland: Marcus and his identical twin, E.J. (the drummer in his quartet), are in their mid-20's and only arrived in New York five years ago, from Florida. But like two other Florida brothers who went to the Apple - the Adderleys - they've quickly made their mark. They appear together on last year's On the Loose (a new-kids-on-the-bop session from Sharp Nine Records), and they've racked up some impressive individual accomplishments, Marcus with Lonnie Plaxico and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band he also placed third in the recent Monk Competition for tenor saxophonists and E.J. as drummer for Russell Malone's quartet and for vocalist Nnenna Freelon. But their preferred outlet remains Marcus' quartet, an expression of fraternal sodality.
On tenor, Marcus plays with unruffled assurance, avoiding fireworks to concentrate on melody and exposition; on soprano, he gets a fuller sound that balances his serpentine lines. But on this wholly commendable album, he proves himself an able leader by what he doesn't do, which is hog center stage. His example keeps a rein on the other soloists, so the date never sounds like a kids' jam. As you might expect, he also enjoys uncommonly simpatico support from his womb-mate. "There is a lot of superstition about how twins can communicate without saying a word," he opined in a recent on-line interview, "We communicate so well, not just because he's my brother, but also because he is an incredible musician."
—Neil Tesser (June, 2002)
"While the Spanish Fresh Sound label generally concentrates on reissuing scarce sessions from the 1950s and early 1960s (often dates by West Coast jazz musicians), its New Talent subsidiary focuses on players of today. Tenor and soprano-saxophonist Marcus Strickland has a cool tone and a subtle but adventurous style, sounding like a mix between Stan Getz and Wayne Shorter. On his quintet date, Strickland is joined by pianist Robert Glaspar (who is most inspired by early Herbie Hancock), bassist Brandon Owens and drummer E.J. Strickland. The group plays seven originals (everyone but Owens contributes at least one song), Joe Henderson's "Serenity" and Wayne Shorter's "Iris".
The leader's attractive tone and the wide variety of moods set by the originals make this an appealing set. In fact, with Strickland also at times hinting at Michael Brecker and John Coltrane, one could say that At Last is an excellent example of where the modern mainstream of jazz is today. This post bop msuci does not inclde any overly memorable melodies but the solos are of high quality, the musicians all listen closely to each other (Ownes and E.J. Stickland are tasteful and stimulating in their support of the two lead voices) and, on the closing "Gar-Zone", Marcus Strickland sounds fairly distinctive.
This is an excellent early set by four fine musicians; look for their names in the future."
Los Angeles Jazz Scene
"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 groups members, all in their early twenties, are former classmates at New Yorks New School of Social Research. Despite their youth they have already shared bandstands with some of jazzs finest. Marcus tours the world as a member of Plaxicos group and is also a member of jazz legend Roy Haynes quartet. I have actually seen E. J. provide the spark for guitarist Russell Malones quartet and Owens big toned bass anchoring tenor saxophonist Tim Warfields 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 recordings 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 Shorters Iris originally performed as a ballad, begins with a sax-piano intro before settling into some serious uptempo burn, while Joe Hendersons 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."