BRANFORD MARSALIS has already recorded albums this year with Sting, the Neville Brothers, Joanne Brackeen and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, but the 27-year old saxophonist's most important new project is his own straight-ahead jazz album "Renaissance."
Marsalis is still searching for his own voice on the saxophone, but his potential is so great and his search so vigorous that his third solo jazz album is worth its unfocused passages for its moments of sudden, forceful eloquence.
The album, produced by kid brother Delfeayo Marsalis, runs nearly an hour, and if some of the blowing sounds like unabashed imitations of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, the more controlled sections reveal a distinctly playful and confessional persona. A quartet featuring Marsalis' long-time piano sidekick Kenny Kirkland and legendary drummer Tony Williams set up a gorgeous tenor sax version of J. Johnson's ballad, "Lament," and a striking soprano sax version of Williams' uptempo "Citadel."
Less of a technical master but more of an emotional risk-taker than his better-known brother Wynton, Branford Marsalis is at his best on a 15-minute, drummerless version of Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" with pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Buster Williams. Playing soprano sax, Marsalis sounds at once sad and proud, allowing his pauses to speak as expressively as his notes. His witty, inventive side emerges on an unaccompanied tenor sax version of Rollins' "St. Thomas." BRANFORD MARSALIS --
"Renaissance" (Columbia FC 40711). Appearing through Sunday at Blues Alley.