Branford Marsalis: Royal Garden Blues


Royal Garden Blues


Branford Marsalis (soprano sax)


Royal Garden Blues (Columbia 40363)

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Branford Marsalis (soprano sax), Larry Willis (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Al Foster (drums).

Composed by Clarence Williams and Spencer Williams


Recorded: New York, March 18-20, 1986


Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

For the title track of his album Royal Garden Blues, Branford Marsalis demonstrates how to re-invent a classic song. While he could have re-arranged the tune into something barely recognizable, he keeps the song intact and dutifully plays the theme from beginning to end before jumping into his improvisation. Pianist Larry Willis drops out as soon as the theme ends, and Marsalis (with the amazing rhythm team of Ron Carter and Al Foster) launches into a free-bop solo. Without the piano, Marsalis implies all sorts of extended harmony that would have surprised the original composers. Marsalis uses bits of the melody all through his solo and displays incredible control on the straight horn. Willis' single-line solo is much more straight-forward, but still offers stretching of the harmonies. Foster is full of fireworks throughout the performance, while Carter's interactions are quite subtle. The biggest shock is when the tune comes back at the end: the improvisations have been so adventurous that if the theme had been edited out on each end and the recording given an original title, jazz fans and critics would have argued endlessly about the harmonic source of the piece.

Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe

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