YOUNG and talented saxophonist Marcus Strickland is on tour in Europe to back his quartet’s recent Triumph of the Heavy CD and the group visited Bratislava for the first time on February 27. The quartet, which also includes his identical twin brother E.J. Strickland, performed in the capital city’s Nu Spirit Club. Both the saxophonist and his drummer brother spoke with The Slovak Spectator (TSS) about jazz and its place in US music, expressing a belief that jazz could be advanced if people realised its true roots, adding that some people think that jazz means “OK, I can play whatever I want” while not really understanding the cultural milieu from which it came.
While on stage Marcus Strickland revealed that he and his brother – surprise, surprise – had their 33rd birthdays just two days before the concert so they looked at the gig as a kind of celebration. Marcus Strickland started composing his own music in 2001 and he has stirred the waters of US jazz since then. The Fountain of Youth album recorded with legendary drummer Roy Haynes received a Grammy nomination in 2004. Marcus is respected for his skills with the soprano and tenor saxophones while brother E.J. has his own gigs and projects when he is not playing alongside his brother.
When asked to compare US and European audiences, Marcus Strickland said “it’s hard to do because younger people in general are not very aware of what is currently going on in jazz – mostly because of the way the music is portrayed in the media”. He noted that too often performers like Miles Davis or Frank Sinatra are shown in connection with jazz – two musicians who have been dead for more than 10 years – and there is not enough attention paid to contemporary musicians playing jazz. Too many people have a nostalgic perception of jazz, he said, while it is really very modern music. He added that the quartet is very pleased when a young person from America or Europe comes to a gig and express surprise about how energetic the music sounds and that “it’s danceable and it’s singable”.
Marcus Strickland talked about the development of different music genres and pointed out their roots – not only what is known as jazz. “There has been a movement called ‘Black American Music’ – and we like to call it this way because it shows where the music came from, it describes the music. And it also opens up things that led to the music – jazz is much more than just swing. Many people like to pigeonhole jazz performers: he plays rhythm-and-blues, she plays jazz and that person sings gospel. But they all come from the same tradition. Calling it Black American Music connects all that stuff together and shows that it’s alright to play several genres at the same time. It is a very broad span of music but at the same time it comes from one source, from the gospel church, the African-American experience,” Strickland explained to The Slovak Spectator.
Asked about playing in a smaller club like the Nu Spirit, drummer E.J. Strickland responded that “a club is easier to play in; you are closer to the audience and the sound is more easily controllable” while Marcus Strickland added that most of their tour was in clubs “which is not the most economically advantageous situation, but it is a very intimate setting”. Both brothers said the audience in Bratislava was very open to their music. “They seem to be very excited about live music – and that is the thing I like best – to go anywhere on the planet and feel that music is the language we all share,” Marcus Strickland added.
Marcus Strickland feels his music is mostly in the mainstream of the range of jazz and that the music he composes is meant for his generation and seeks to be representative of what is happening now, adding that he felt some jazz composers continue to write as if they were in the 1950s. “But we are no longer in that time, people grew up around hip-hop and other kinds of modern music”, he said, so his approach is to let everything that surrounds him make an impression on his music rather than trying to keep his music away from those influences.
The Marcus Strickland Quartet also includes David Bryant on piano and Ameen Saleem on bass and the foursome easily managed to capture the attention of the Nu Spirit audience and heat them to a feverish pitch by playing older “classics” and newer pieces composed by Marcus Strickland. Following the David Sanborn concert last November, this was the second gig in the somewhat irregular Nu Spirit series called In Jazz We Trust. The audience surely left with the hope that more top-quality musicians will soon arrive but the club’s manager, Marek Babušiak, told The Slovak Spectator that visits by musicians with a global reputation cannot always be planned in advance and sometimes are just a matter of lucky coincidence.
12. Mar 2012 at 0:00 | Zuzana Vilikovská