The challenge in delivering an all-ballads instrumental CD is to entice, seduce and then sustain the listener's attention. It's no cakewalk.

The challenge in delivering an all-ballads instrumental CD is to entice, seduce and then sustain the listener's attention. It's no cakewalk. Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano made the grade earlier this year on his mellow CD "I'm All for You," and now Branford Marsalis cools the tempo and likewise captivates. On "Eternal," his third CD for his own Marsalis Music label, he plumbs the depths of seven extended improvisational tunes. Most ballad CDs suffice for background dinner jazz, but the moving performances on "Eternal" promise to arrest conversation. With a close listen you can hear Marsalis on soprano and tenor saxes feel his way through the tunes alongside his simpatico quartet of pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. Each member contributes an original, highlighted by Marsalis' passionately drawn title tune, a song he penned for his wife. One of the covers, the molasses-slow "Gloomy Sunday," associated with Billie Holiday and pop singer Heather Nova, is given a heartfelt, knowing rendering that testifies to Marsalis fully fathoming anguish and expressing it with thickly accented tenor blues.—DO