By Gina Tron
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Saxophonist Marcus Strickland was listening to John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Parliament and Jimi Hendrix before he was even born. While Marcus was still in the womb, his father, a DJ and classical percussionist, played tunes on a open reel deck and placed a speaker near his mother's belly in hopes that Marcus and his identical twin brother, E.J., would hear the music inside. Dad's musical influence no doubt helped jump-start the brothers' musical careers.
"A relative of mine said that whenever we were around music, even when we couldn't walk, we would get up and try to hold ourselves on a table or something and sway from side to side," Strickland says.
After hearing "My Favorite Things" by Coltrane at age eleven, Strickland knew he wanted to play sax. In middle school, a year after taking up the alto sax, a teacher had him learning Charlie Parker solos by ear. He switched from alto to soprano, but by the time he was fifteen, he realized that all his heroes were tenor players.
Eventually, Strickland went on to become a tenor player himself. And he recently came off a five-year stint with Roy Haynes, one of the greatest drummers in jazz history. On Stickland's latest disc, Open Reel Deck, he takes cues from the music his father played for him growing up, everything from jazz-funk grooves to hip-hop and hard bop. On each tune, Strickland digs in deep, his tenor tone bold and fiery. The album was recorded live earlier this year at New York's Jazz Standard and released on Strickland's own Strick Muzik imprint, which he started last year.
Most of the musicians on Open Reel Deck are also in Strickland's current touring Twi-Life band, including brother E.J. on drums, gritty-toned trumpeter Keyon Herald, electric-bassist Carlos Henderson and phenomenal Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund, who wasn't on the album but will perform at the two-night stint at Dazzle.
"He's like the most quiet, humble dude you'll ever meet," Strickland says of Lund. "But when he gets on that guitar, you gotta watch out."
Rounding out the group is Malachi, the spoken-word artist, whom Strickland found on MySpace while looking for a lyricist or a rapper who had something to talk about other than booty and money.
"He's a very unique-sounding poet," Strickland says. "It's hard for me to explain to people that he's not a rapper. If I was to get Busta Rhymes and Mos Def and you heard them back to back with Malachi, you'd realize right away that rap and poetry are very different."