soprano saxophone

Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin' Tunes (Marsalis Music)

Publication: Burning Ambulance
Author: Phil Freeman
Date: August 7, 2012

Since the dawn of the millennium, Branford Marsalis‘s quartet has been steadily turning out albums that, without ever making landmark statements, nevertheless push restlessly against the strictures of modern jazz. In a way, this album, which introduces new drummer Jason Faulkner, is a bookend to the group’s first release, 2000′s Contemporary Jazz, which introduced pianist Joey Calderazzo to the lineup following the death of Kenny Kirkland, who’d worked with Marsalis (and his brother Wynton) since the 1980s. Like Contemporary Jazz, its title—Four MFs Playin’ Tunes—is an emphatic statement of purpose not unlike Ornette Coleman‘s This is Our Music or Thelonious Monk‘s Monk’s Music.

The actual music offers a similar line-in-the-sand challenge to the listener. Four MFs begins with three straight pieces featuring Marsalis on soprano saxophone, an instrument that can ruin a jazz record quicker than any other (even the bagpipes are better—seek out the work of Rufus Harley). Still, it must be said that Marsalis’s voice on the soprano is instantly identifiable, and more enjoyable than many of his squawking, squiggling, circular-breathing peers. And the band behind him is terrific. Calderazzo is a McCoy Tyner-ish pianist, spinning out baroque swirls of notes with a lightning-fast right hand; Eric Revis‘s bass is thick and human, always bolstering and almost never intruding; and Faulkner is a ferocious drummer, slamming the kit around with the fury and boundless energy that only a 20-year-old can muster. But for all the ballistic power he displays on burnout tunes like “Whiplash,” he’s just as willing and able to pull back and sensitively accompany a ballad like “As Summer into Autumn Slips” (another soprano tune, but, again, a forgivable one given the beauty of Marsalis’s handling of the melody). Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on August 8th, 2012 — 10:35am

LIVE: Branford Marsalis (Duo + Quartet) at Proctors, 2/3/12

Publication: Nippertown!
Author: J Hunter
Date: February 3, 2012

I hadn’t known this was an issue until it was pointed out to me by a musician whose opinion (and playing) I deeply respect. Essentially, it boils down to a very simple question: What is the deal with Branford Marsalis when he plays tenor saxophone? When Marsalis plays soprano sax, he is the epitome of precision and expression; however, when he plays tenor he just… well… honks. I closely observed this situation over two sets at Proctors last Friday night. (Well, one-and-a-half sets, if we’re going to be accurate.)

The show was split up between an opening series of duets between Branford and pianist Joey Calderazzo, and a full-band set with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. The duets came from “Songs of Mirth & Melancholy” (Marsalis Music, 2011), which Marsalis and Calderazzo recorded after seeing the potential of such a disc during an impromptu duo show at the Newport Jazz Festival. Although we only heard four tunes before the pair declared an intermission, that relatively short performance displayed the contrast between the thrilling intimacy of the Melancholy material and the full-bore nastiness of the Branford Quartet. It also displayed the skin-tight chemistry Marsalis and Calderazzo share; he’s got that with all his band members, but the relationship between leader and pianist was really under the microscope in this no-frills (and no-safety-net) setting.

After a quick reminiscence by Marsalis on the last time he played Proctors (eight years ago, when the Marsalis Family was on tour), the duo slipped into “La Valse Kendall,” a Calderazzo original that is equal parts classical and jazz, and could make you cry uncontrollably when heard at the right moment. Marsalis’ soprano went right for your soul and did its best to tear the sucker out by the roots, while Calderazzo’s immaculate precision added a real sense of occasion to the piece. Then they switched to Calderazzo’s stride-rich “One Way,” and Marsalis began the first series of honking sounds on tenor. Okay, he wasn’t REALLY honking; what he played was not only damn good, it was entirely appropriate to the piece and the era it recalled. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on February 13th, 2012 — 03:22pm