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Jazz - Released December 2, 1986 | Columbia

Branford Marsalis' second album as a leader followed his first by three years, and he had grown a lot in the interim. He had switched permanently to tenor (doubling on soprano), left his brother Wynton's group, toured with Sting, and begun heading his own group. Although using quartets on each of the seven selections, Marsalis varies the personnel quite a bit, utilizing pianists Ellis Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Larry Willis, and Herbie Hancock; bassists Ron Carter, Charnett Moffett, and Ira Coleman; and drummers Ralph Peterson, Al Foster, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, and Jeff Watts. One of Branford's more playful albums, the repertoire includes a tribute of sorts to his native New Orleans on "Royal Garden Blues" plus "Strike Up the Band" and then-recent originals. An excellent outing. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released February 5, 1987 | Columbia

Branford Marsalis's debut as a leader is ambitious yet consistently successful. On "Scenes of the City," his narrative is in the same spirit of some of Charles Mingus's recordings of the 1950s. Otherwise the music is in the modern mainstream vein with Marsalis (on tenor and soprano) hinting strongly at Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, along with a touch of Sonny Rollins. The backup crew includes such notable young lions as pianist Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Kirkland, bassist Charnett Moffett, and drummers Jeff "Tain" Watts and Marvin "Smitty" Smith in addition to bassist Ron Carter. It's an impressive start to a notable career. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released September 24, 1987 | Columbia

The high point of Branford Marsalis' third Columbia release as a leader is a 15-minute version of Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" played in a trio with pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Buster Williams. The remainder of the program matches Marsalis with pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Bob Hurst, and drummer Tony Williams on a pair of standards ("Just One of Those Things" and a live version of "St. Thomas"), J.J. Johnson's "Lament," and originals by Marsalis and Williams. Although he did not have an immediately recognizable sound on tenor and soprano at this point, it was obvious from nearly the start that Branford Marsalis would have a very significant career. This is one of his better early efforts. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released June 23, 1988 | Columbia

Branford Marsalis (on tenor and soprano) and his 1987 quartet (which also includes pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Delbert Felix and drummer Lewis Nash) stretch out on a wide repertoire during this generally fascinating set. Very much a chameleon for the date, Marsalis does close impressions of Wayne Shorter on "Yes and No," John Coltrane ("Crescent City"), Ben Webster (a warm version of "I Thought About You"), Ornette Coleman ("Broadway Falls") and even Jan Garbarek (on a long rendition of Coleman's "Lonely Woman"). Random Abstract also includes a jam on Kirkland's "LonJellis," a piece without chord changes. This is one of Branford Marsalis' most interesting (and somewhat unusual) recordings. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released June 8, 1989 | Columbia

Branford Marsalis clearly had a lot of fun during this set. On seven of the ten numbers included on the double LP (the CD reissue actually has one less selection), Marsalis romps on tenor and soprano in a trio with veteran bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts; the remaining three numbers have Delbert Felix in Hinton's place. The performances are quite spontaneous (the occasional mistakes were purposely left in) and Marsalis really romps on such tunes as "Three Little Words," "Makin' Whoopee," and "Doxy." On the joyful outing that is also one of Branford Marsalis' most accessible recordings, Milt Hinton often steals the show. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released July 26, 1990 | Columbia

Branford Marsalis (on tenor and soprano) performs four of his originals, Bob Hurst's "The Dark Knight," Keith Jarrett's obscure "Rose Petals" and "The Ballad of Chet Kincaid" (co-written by Bill Cosby and Quincy Jones) on this outing with his 1990 quartet. It's an impressive group that also includes pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Hurst and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. "Ballad" would catch on to a general audience, but on the others Marsalis is heard throughout in prime form, sounding more original and pushing himself. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released February 21, 1991 | Columbia

Dark Keys is Branford Marsalis' first major solo album since taking a leave from recording to be the musical director of The Tonight Show in 1993. Instead of following through with the hip-hop inclinations of Buckshot LeFonque, Marsalis has returned to traditional jazz, yet this is far from standard bop. Marsalis pushes at the borders of post-bop, adding elements of hip-hop and rock & roll, making for an adventurous and exciting listen. Occasionally, his experiments are unsuccessful, yet they are never less than intriguing. ~ Leo Stanley
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Classical - Released July 26, 1991 | Columbia

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Jazz - Released September 26, 1991 | Columbia

This set is one of Branford Marsalis' strongest of the 1990s. Marsalis really stretches out on eight numbers including six of his originals (the other two songs are by bassist Bob Hurst). There is one guest appearance apiece from brother-trumpeter Wynton and tenor saxophonist Courtney Pine but otherwise Branford is accompanied only by Hurst and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. His playing is often reminiscent in style (but not really sound) of John Coltrane, he is more concise and disciplined than in some of his early-'90s concert appearances and Marsalis is at his most explorative on this inventive blowing session. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released August 27, 1992 | Columbia

Branford Marsalis plays the blues on this interesting if erratic CD. Among his many guests are B.B. King (although surprisingly, there is no interaction between Marsalis and King), John Lee Hooker, Russell Malone, Linda Hopkins (who comes across very well), Joe Louis Walker and brothers Wynton and Delfeayo Marsalis. Ranging from hints of field hollers and New Orleans to country blues, a vignette ("Brother Trying to Catch a Cab (On the East Side) Blues") and a few more conventional burnouts, this is an intriguing set that is worth picking up. ~ Scott Yanow
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Jazz - Released May 13, 1993 | Columbia

This live set (part of which was included in the performance film The Music Tells You) features Branford Marsalis and his longtime trio (bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts) really stretching out on six pieces. Most of the playing is unfortunately very long-winded and rather dull. Marsalis seems content to play the part of a chameleon, doing his impressions of late-period Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and (when he switches to soprano) Ornette Coleman. Also, the music lacks variety and Marsalis is off-mic part of the time. Although the final two selections give this set a much needed dose of humor, it is too little too late. ~ Scott Yanow
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Classical - Released July 28, 1994 | Sony Classical

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Jazz - Released February 28, 1999 | Columbia

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Jazz - Released June 15, 2000 | Columbia

This album was much anticipated, for it would be Branford Marsalis's first since the death of his longtime pianist Kenny Kirkland. Happily, it is a knockout. While no one can entirely recreate the famed chemistry that existed between Kirkland and Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo does a marvelous job handling the extraordinary complexity, energy, and beauty of Marsalis's music. Bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, both of whom played on 1999's Requiem (which wound up being the last recording of Kirkland's life), carry on here in the spirit of their departed friend, fleshing out Marsalis's increasingly challenging ensemble concepts and -- most importantly -- swinging like men possessed."In the Crease" and "Tain Mutiny," with their unpredictable twists and turns, are indicative of the gravitas of Marsalis's work ever since he left his post at The Tonight Show. But the album's high point is a lengthy take of "Elysium," a tune that appeared on Requiem as a trio piece, an aesthetic choice necessitated by the sudden death of Kirkland who never had a chance to play on the track. Here the full quartet weighs in, deftly executing a dizzying series of tempo shifts and subtle cues, all seamlessly worked into a fabric of extended, burning improvisation. Finally, "Sleepy Hollow," a slow blues tucked away at the end of the program as a hidden track, sounds as though the band just let the tape roll as they warmed down from the session. It's a delightfully unrehearsed moment, perhaps a closing homage to Kirkland, drawn from deep down in the tradition. ~ David R. Adler
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Classical - Released December 11, 2000 | Sony Classical

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Jazz - Released February 19, 2004 | Columbia - Legacy

The Steep Anthology collects various tracks from some of saxophonist Branford Marsalis' best Columbia albums. Beginning with his first session as a leader on 1983's Scenes in the City through to 1999's Requiem -- his second to last album for the label -- the eldest of the Marsalis brothers carved a singular path through the jazz world. Inspired by such innovative luminaries as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Wayne Shorter, Marsalis always displayed a deep understanding of his jazz roots while also looking to put his own unique stamp on the music. Never as buttoned-up as his trumpet-playing brother, the saxophonist made recordings that often seemed brilliantly haphazard, allowing for humorous and idiosyncratic forays into gutbucket blues and torrents of avant-garde skronk. His almost psychic connection with his bandmates, including the late pianist Kenny Kirkland, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, and bassist Robert Hurst, made for exciting and sometimes irreverent music that often gave the impression of eavesdropping on a conversation ripe with inside jokes. Most of the tracks here are original compositions by Marsalis, and many showcase his early "burnout" aesthetic of pushing his solos to the furthest limit he could. Others, such as "Royal Garden Blues" and "Sidney in da Haus," find the versatile New Orleans native rejoicing in his hometown second-line traditions with a bluesy, modernist edge. Marsalis left Columbia in 2002 to start his own independent music label; The Steep Anthology is a fitting tribute to the development of one of the most influential and individualistic jazz musicians of his generation. ~ Matt Collar
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Classical - Released April 2, 2008 | Sony Classical

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Jazz - Released October 17, 2014 | Okeh

Until now, the one thing Branford Marsalis hasn't recorded is a solo saxophone album. In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral realizes that ambition in grand style. It was meticulously planned and recorded in the same venue where Duke Ellington delivered his first Sacred Concert in 1965. Marsalis uses the cathedral's amazing acoustics as a collaborator in delivering a dazzling array of material. Playing soprano, tenor, and alto saxophones, he begins with the straight horn Steve Lacy's "Who Needs It," bringing the composition's unconventional yet wondrous scalar lyricism to the fore. He follows this on tenor with a truly soulful read of the Hoagy Carmichael standard "Stardust," allowing its bluesy undertones to shine through. He also uses the tenor for a reading of C.P.E Bach's "Sonata in A Minor for Oboe, Wq. 132." Marsalis is faithful and precise but not overly reverential, making room for some of the horn's tonal possibilities in coloring and sonorously embellishing the harmonics. There are four excellent improvisations here as well. The first is played on alto. His sure-footed arpeggios take the horn from bebop to post-bop and beyond without overplaying, creating spatial and lyrical narratives simultaneously. The concert's finest moment, however, is his alto reading of classical composer Ryo Noda's Mai, Op. 7. The work, written as a sonata for saxophone, curiously and mysteriously employs multiphonics -- textural and tonal characteristics to reflect the character of Japan's traditional shakuhachi flute. It is haunting and resonant, showcasing Marsalis' breath control across the alto's timbral range. He also contributes two original tunes. An airy ballad played on soprano, "The Moment I Recall Your Face" is as lyrical as a folk song. His walking "Blues for One" is nearly seven minutes in length and retains the 12-bar structure throughout, yet traces the history of the form as it relates to both improvisation and song. The encore "I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together" -- from The Carol Burnett Show -- is a tender, sincere engagement with the tune, revealing the saxophonist's genuine love of popular culture and its influence on his work. In My Solitude is not only the completion of another chapter in Marsalis' long and varied musical career, but a peak in it. With all its elegance, warmth, and humor, this concert is a musical tour de force. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released April 10, 2015 | Okeh

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