Marcus Strickland, Triumph of the Heavy, Volume 2

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 10.24.11 in Reviews
A scintillating bash

The second of the Triumph of the Heavy volumes is a scintillating bash, a grand concert crescendo culminating the trio tenure of saxophonist Marcus Strickland, his twin brother E.J. Strickland on drums, and bassist Ben Williams. It is tougher, freer and at once more incendiary and egalitarian than Triumph of the Heavy Volume 1, a studio recording that adds pianist David Bryant to the threesome and is a fine outing in its own right. But the smaller unit on Volume 2 accords more space to the bass and drums — Marcus Strickland describes their group interplay as “a strong triangle” — and there is an unflinching, ornery quality to this erstwhile rhythm section that is akin to a dog gnawing on a bone. It fits well with the way Marcus, on both tenor and soprano, works a riff, alternately sculpting and refracting, turning and exposing each facet with short, clipped phrases. Williams and E.J. Strickland garner nearly as much solo space as the ostensible leader, and the threesome are sufficiently familiar with each other that they simultaneously strive and parry more often than they subsume or undergird. The result is a live performance that is undeniably “heavy” but with a surging dexterity that is neither “outside” nor mainstream, sort of like early Ornette Coleman. Among the highlights, Williams is a magnetic force on both “Surreal” and “Gaudi;” “A Memory’s Mourn” incorporates pregnant pauses like the vintage quintets of Miles; “Prime” bursts forth with slippery energy as E.J. Strickland takes no prisoners, setting the nail on most every accent; “Portrait of Tracy” begins in a quasi-chamber music mode before settling into the dogged mien that is the group’s signature; and “Cuspy’s Delight” is a fitting finale, with Marcus tearing off chunks of melody before turning the show over to brother E.J. for an extended solo.