Music Review: Branford Marsalis Quartet with Special Guest Kurt Elling – ‘Upward Spiral’

Publication: BlogCritics.org
Author: Jack Goodstein
Date: June 3, 2016

As explained in the notes on the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s album Upward Spiral (featuring Kurt Elling), this is truly a collaborative effort. Everything about the album, from the instrumental musicians’ desire to work with a vocalist, to the choice of that vocalist—although when that choice is Kurt Elling what other choice is there—to the choice of material, is the result of “serious musical debate” creating what Marsalis calls “a true partnership.”

“I usually reject the word ‘collaboration,’” Marsalis explains, “because it implies a third thing from that which each collaborator does well. I don’t need a collaborator to do what I normally do, and Kurt doesn’t, either.” The idea for the new album was to get together to do something different. “The goal here, even though he sings lyrics, was to highlight Kurt’s voice as an instrument.” In effect, Upward Spiral was not intended to be just another vocalist fronting just another quartet.

Now while in any artistic endeavor there is often a great chasm between what was intended and what resulted, and in spite what is oft said of good intentions—the Marsalis-Elling intentions are plenty good, and the road they pave could well bridge over any chasm and end at an innovative musical heaven.
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Submitted by Courtney on June 7th, 2016 — 01:20pm

The Branford Marsalis Quartet With Special Guest Kurt Elling: Upward Spiral

Publication: AllAboutJazz.com
Author: Dan Bilawsky
Date: May 19, 2016

To one extent or another, jazz has always maintained a discriminatory dividing line between vocalists and instrumentalists. Instead of being viewed as equals—artists on par with all the rest, possessing the same good sense, skill, and stake in an artistic outcome—vocalists have often been unfairly stigmatized and interned in a separate category. But all of that has slowly been changing, due in no small part to a large and continually growing crop of vocalists who are consistently raising the bar. 

Whether on or off the bandstand, Marsalis doesn’t mince words or ideas. Due to that fact, few vocalists are really up to the challenge of entering his orbit and thriving in such a climate. In Elling, however, Marsalis has found one who’s every bit his match. The saxophonist and his quartet mates are able to telescope focus toward Elling’s warm, strong, and pliant voice, and Elling is able to accentuate the inherently melodic and lyrical qualities in this group’s work. The beauty in Marsalis’ music isn’t cited often enough, as many tend to focus exclusively on the edgier side of his sound. This project rectifies that problem.

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Submitted by Courtney on May 23rd, 2016 — 10:53am

What's On: Branford Marsalis

Publication: Time Out Hong Kong
Author: Joshiah Ng
Date: April 20, 2016

As saxophone colossus Branford Marsalis prepares to play a programme of 20th century works with the City Chamber Orchestra, Josiah Ng sits down with the Grammy award-winner to talk Ornette Coleman and to learn about the music behind the man.

There are few musicians who cross genres and have an intimate relationship with myriad musical styles like Branford Marsalis. Born in New Orleans in 1960, Marsalis first began playing at a young age guided by his father, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, and supported by his brothers Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, all jazz giants in and of themselves.

He first cut his teeth with the legendary Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers alongside his brother Wynton, and began touring and performing with classical ensembles in 2008. His career includes collaborations with Dizzie Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, The Grateful Dead and Sting, the formation of hip-hop group Buckshot LeFonque in 1997, and a stint as musical director for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

With work across a spectrum of genres, we attempt to find out what powers the musical spirit behind Branford Marsalis, as well as what listeners can expect when he takes to the stage in Hong Kong.

You started in New Orleans as a musician. What did you acquire from that heritage?
New Orleans is the home of funk and some of the hit records of the 1950s came out of New Orleans. I grew up playing a lot of different stuff and that’s what I loved the most about being from there. We played everything, so whatever style of music I’m playing at the moment, all of those other experiences come through, even in classical music. Oftentimes, classical players will say it’s really unusual the way I play music, that the notes tend to be a little shorter, and where I place the beat is different from where they would place it. But that’s just culture.

Was it difficult to navigate those differences in classical music?
Not really. The hardest part is just practicing enough and learning enough to play the music well. If you are not afraid of your weaknesses, then you can embrace the system and embrace the way that you have to learn. Very gradually, you start to improve. But if you’re a person who is afraid of failure, then it’s more difficult to learn.

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Submitted by Courtney on April 22nd, 2016 — 03:39pm

Branford Marsalis To Release New Album with Kurt Elling on June 10

Publication: Downbeat
Author: Brian Zimmerman
Date: April 7, 2016

Things are looking up for saxophonist Branford Marsalis and vocalist Kurt Elling, who will add a shared title to their respective discographies. The Branford Marsalis Quartet will release Upward Spiral, featuring Elling as a guest vocalist, on June 10. The album will be released via Marsalis Music on OKeh Records.

The album, Marsalis’ first new leader project since 2014’s In My Solitude (Marsalis Music/Sony Masterworks), reunites the pioneering saxophonist with his longtime quartet, made up of pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner. The group’s previous album, Four MF’s Playing Tunes, was released in August 2012, and earned a 4-star review in the October 2012 issue of DownBeat.

Recorded during a weeklong session in New Orleans, the album is a collection that blends Great American Songbook staples, modern jazz standards and popular music mainstays from a diverse array of composers.

In an announcement from the record label, Marsalis explained that the goal from the outset of this project was to create a true feeling of partnership.

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Submitted by Courtney on April 19th, 2016 — 01:02pm
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Branford Marsalis’ first Hong Kong gig – it’s going to be a classic

Publication: SouthChinaMorningPost.com
Author: Robin Lynam
Date: April 16, 2016

Playing French and Russian classical music with a chamber music ensemble is probably not the way most of us would have expected saxophonist Branford Marsalis to make his Hong Kong debut.

A member of New Orleans’ first family of jazz – son to pianist Ellis and elder brother to trumpeter Wynton, drummer Jason, and trombonist Delfeayo – the 55-year-old is also best known as one of the finest jazz reed players of his generation, adept on alto, tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones.

He leads a highly successful jazz quartet, and also performs in a duet setting with notable pianists including Ellis Marsalis, Joey Calderazzo and Harry Connick Jnr. Over the last couple of years he has also undertaken a number of engagements performing entirely unaccompanied.

Seen by millions around the world in 1985 playing with Sting and Phil Collins at Live Aid, Marsalis is also a familiar face and sound to late night television audiences from his stint in the early 1990s as bandleader for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Still, he is no stranger to the classical music world. Marsalis made his debut in 2010 with the New York Philharmonic, playing Alexander Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone. This is one of the two pieces that he will perform with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong at City Hall on April 27.

The musician says that, and Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche suite, which he has recorded, were the orchestra’s choices for the programme.

“I tend to leave those decisions to the orchestras, because they know their markets,” he says over the phone from his home in Durham, North Carolina.

“All markets are different culturally, and they have a sense of what the audience will appreciate.

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Submitted by Courtney on April 18th, 2016 — 09:51am