Author: Darren Mueller and Matthew Somoroff
Date: January 17, 2012
“We need to quit thinking of songs as vehicles and think of them as songs, and treat each song with equality… What [pianist Joey Calderazzo and I] are trying to do is to figure out the emotional purpose of each song we play and then play according to that purpose, as opposed to musicians who spend their time developing what they call a concept. The biggest drawback of developing a concept is that everything you play has to be filtered through that concept. Ergo, every song ends up sounding exactly the same, which is called consistency, but it’s actually just dull-ass repetition. There’s nothing consistent about it. On [Songs of Mirth and Melancholy], I think that’s what we achieved: intellectual and musical consistency, even though all the songs are different.” —Branford Marsalis at his Duke Performances listening session
There is a lot to Branford Marsalis’ line of thinking here. Jazz composers such as Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, or Maria Schneider would most likely not only agree with Marsalis, but also say that this approach is a foregone conclusion to their musical conception. The recorded work of Miles Davis’ 1960s quintet, to which Marsalis referred, during the listening session, as one of his inspirations to pursue jazz, represents a similar approach to small-group improvisation. During the latter half of the decade, Davis’ style of playing on versions of “Agitation” differed from his playing on “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” The differences went beyond variance in tempo, encompassing timbral inflections, phrasing, and overall concept.
On January 13 at Reynolds Theater—the first date of the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s two-night, sold-out Duke Performances engagement—Marsalis practiced what he preaches.