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Saxophonist Marcus Strickland was named as one of JazzTimes magazine’s “New Visionaries” this month, partially for his pedigrees in funk and hip-hop as well as jazz. As if to demonstrate this, last night at Blues Alley he played songs by Stevie Wonder (“She’s Got It Bad”) and OutKast (“She’s Alive”) back-to-back. It surprised even Strickland: “I never thought I’d be covering a song written by an emcee,” he remarked before “She’s Alive.”
Strickland’s new quartet is loaded with players who can be described in superlatives: the drummer, twin brother E.J. Strickland, is perhaps jazz’s most powerful drummer under 30; guitarist Mike Moreno is easily one of the most nimble improvisers; and Ben Williams is one of the most intellectual bassists. As for Marcus, he’s packed with new melodic and harmonic ideas that he filters through a haughty, lusty sound on his tenor (he lightens up a bit, but not too much, when he switches to soprano). Many of the tunes he led the band through were new, and played with as much muscle as he could muster.
If you couldn’t make either set last night, a good place to start with Strickland is his last year’s Open Reel Deck album, which I wrote “targets the intellect even as it makes the head bob. It’s fun and engaging[.]” Check it out.