Tenor/soprano saxophonist Branford Marsalis played neoclassical jazz with his younger brother Wynton, left his sibling’s band for Sting’s greener pop pastures, appeared in Throw Mama From the Train and School Daze, walked away from The Tonight Show, and personified the perils and promises of the so-called “Young Lions” generation. The 10-track Steep Anthology, titled after his nickname “Steeplone,” contains selections of Marsalis’s Columbia recordings from 1984 to 1999, plus an unreleased live recording of Monk’s classic “Evidence.”
The disc could have been subtitled Portrait of a Young Artist in Search of His Own Sound. You can hear Marsalis’s amalgam of Wayne Shorter’s elliptical phrases, John Coltrane’s sheets of sound, and Sonny Rollins’s muscular tones—in the edgy, “A Love Supreme”-based “The Dark Keys,” the florid sax/piano take on West Side Story‘s “Maria” with his father, Ellis, and the shifting, torrid tempos of “Spartacus,” with the late Kenny Kirkland’s powerful pianisms and Elvin Jones-inspired drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. Though Marsalis’s beautiful rendering of Jimmy Rowles’s “The Peacocks” should have been included, this compendium perfectly highlights the saxophonist’s open mind, his encyclopedic knowledge of the music, and the origins of his own sonic signature.