Review by Brad WalsethMarcus Strickland is an up-and-coming young saxman who has worked with Michael Carvin, Dave Douglas, "Tain" Watts, and Roy Haynes. "Twi-Life" is his solo debut, and he has produced an unusual recording in that it is a double release featuring his Marcus Strickland Quartet recorded in 2005 on one disc, and his new Twi-Life Group recorded in 2006 on the other. Both groups feature Marcus on soprano and tenor saxes and reeds, along with his twin brother E.J. on drums; while the 2005 quartet is rounded out by pianist Robert Glasper and bassist Vincente Archer, and the newer group replaces Glasper and Archer with guitarist Lage Lund and electric bassist Brad Jones. As may be expected these different configurations lead to a wide of variety of styles within an overall bop sound.
The first disc opens with the only cover on either disc - Wayne Shorter's "Oriental Folk Song" and this is telling as Marcus Strickland's sound does seem to have a Shorter influence. The delightfully titled "The Beast Within Beauty" follows and allows Marcus plenty of room to stretch his formidable playing skills. Throughout this song and the others drummer E.J. Strickland shows his considerable skill at playing an actively interesting melodic and rhythmic drum kit. "Thump and Cadence" lives up to it's name with Glasper's piano and Marcus' sax providing the melodic structure over the explosive array of E.J.'s drums. Meanwhile, bassist Archer is tasteful and full-toned in support.
"An Oasis of Bronze" is a hauntingly quiet ballad that mesermerizes with its beauty; while the jangling, jumping "Sesame Street" (brought to you by the letter "J") is a highlight. "Smoothie" continues this enjoyable ride, while "Brooklyn Street Fair" captures the rhythms of the street with its shifting movements. The first side ends with the charming up-tempo "The Whole Page." All in all, an engaging presentation of the Marcus Strickland Quartet in all their glory.
The 2nd CD exhibits the Strickland brothers interacting with electric musicians Brad Jones and Lage Lund. Lund is becoming well-known as an up-and-coming young guitarist of note, and he doesn't disappoint on this recording - adding chordal comping and acting as counterpoint to Marcus. The music on the Twi-Life group disc is a little more varied than the first disc, with forays into less-traditional areas. The rhythms on "Majesty" veer into Carribean territory, while the Sonny Rollins-ish melodic theme is catchy. Here as on the rest of the side, Lund is given ample room to shine as a soloist. "Shift" again features Lund's feathery touch over shifting time, while "Haile Selassie"'s punchy rhythms and Marcus Strickland's sax pyrotechnics are a delight. E.J. shows his writing chops with the quietly flowing "In Faith" - in which Brad Jones is given the opportunity to show his bass solo chops in a rewarding display.
Funkyshines abound in the fun "The Nottage Cottage," while "Moon Ruler" and "Glitch" with their contrapuntal polyrhythms and interesting changes are both gems. "Paradigm" continues the trend with another interesting funk feel, Marcus' fiery sax, Lund's expressive guitarwork and Jones again with a clever solo, while "Twi-Life" ends the CD with the Brothers Strickland leading their group into the stratosphere on this blinding hot number. Marcus Strickland is a young player/composer/bandleader on the rise, whom I am sure we will be hearing more about as the years pass (as well as his brother and bandmates). This two-disc release is an excellent record of his work with two very different configurations that should please the discerning jazz fan.