Review: Marcus Strickland Quartet

At Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Patrick Flanary enjoys the work of Marcus Strickland whether the saxophonist and bandleader is resting or playing

What’s more striking than watching the saxophonist Marcus Strickland work? Watching him rest.

It’s his frequent breaks, for stretches of several minutes - time spent not playing - that imply as much gratitude for his band as suspense for the song. In this way Strickland (pictured right with his quartet) dictates rhythm in respite, allowing his eight-year-old quartet the space to emerge from the roles of sidemen to leaders of the moment.

For much of their hour-long set on Monday 22 August at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York, Strickland’s group performed as their frontman stepped aside and stood silent, dormant, admiring from a far corner of the stage. This made his re-entries sweeter, with Strickland switching from tenor to alto and floating back into a conversation he’d started. Each break was a potent departure; every comeback a welcome announcement, an exuberant wail.

Meanwhile, Strickland’s band never seemed to stop. His identical twin E.J. Strickland on drums, the pianist David Bryant and the bassist Ben Williams maintained an emphatically rhythmic mid-tempo set of originals and covers, touching on avant-garde and hip-hop while never fully embracing either. Some measures were fit for ready-made samples. However, unlike Strickland’s other lineup, the post-bop project Twi-Life, his quartet rarely veers into the abstract. Even their interpretations of Björk’s Scatterheart and Slum Village’s Star, two odd and obscure songs in their own right, didn’t stray far from straightahead jazz. (Strickland reserves his freer, experimental side for Twi-Life, which in April released Nihil Novi, Strickland’s first album for Blue Note.)

Toward the end of Monday’s set, during a version of Jacques Brel’s ballad Ne Me Quitte Pas, Bryant’s octaves cut harder as he played higher and a vague unease underscored the solo’s brevity. Strickland nodded, gently rocked on his heels, his tenor sax at rest.

As a leader, he listens more than he plays.

Photo by Nelima Kerre, Blue Note

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