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Marsalis and Blanchard focus on the new, not the tried-and-true
Author: Dan Emerson
Date: February 27, 2011
Saxophonist Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Terence Blanchard, who led their respective bands Sunday night at Orchestra Hall, don’t seem old enough to have had a 40-year musical relationship.
But that is the case, Marsalis, 50, told the audience. They met as grade-schoolers at a summer jazz camp in their native New Orleans in 1970, and have been collaborators, off-and-on, ever since.
Sunday’s concert featured mostly new compositions by the two bandleaders and their colleagues — a refreshing change, since most Orchestra Hall jazz shows feature tried-and-true standards.
Marsalis opened the show with his quartet, which features two longtime bandmates: pianist Joey Calderazzo and upright bassist Eric Revis. The group’s newest member is young drummer Justin Faulkner.
The first two tunes the group played were modernistic compositions by Calderazzo and Marsalis, both so new they don’t have names yet. The first one was an uptempo bebop piece featuring a serpentine melody line that put Marsalis’ world-class soprano sax chops to the test.
A new Marsalis-penned ballad followed that; the group had played it only once before, in a hasty, afternoon rehearsal.
The only piece in the “jazz standard” category was a madcap rendition of Thelonious Monk’s racous “52nd Street,” a tribute to New York City’s fabled birthplace of bebop. The tune featured breakneck tempos, sudden stops and adventurous “outside” riffing by Marsalis and Calderazzo.
Calderazzo gently caressed the keys on the next piece, his lovely ballad “Blossom in the Park.” It drew the loudest applause of the set.
Marsalis brought the 48-year-old Blanchard onstage for the set-closing instrumental, during which the band cooked at a ferocious tempo.
After the intermission, the Blanchard quintet’s set featured solely original material, several of them written by the Grammy-winning composer of film soundtracks.
Blanchard’s group is also loaded with talented young players, including Cuban-born pianist Fabian Almazan, tenor saxophonist Brice Winston, drummer Kendrick Scott and 19-year-old acoustic bassist Joshua Crumby.
The quintet played several lengthy pieces that seemed cinematic in their range of gradually shifting moods and dynamics. One was “Choices,” the title ballad from Blanchard’s new CD, featuring a drum intro subtly played by Scott using his bare hands.
Blanchard introduced Scott as “the most musical drummer I’ve ever played with,” and he lived up to the praise with his use of dynamics and rhythmic creativity.
Blanchard didn’t leave the stage without adding a New Orleans-style flourish to the proceedings. He brought Marsalis back out to join in the final tune, which evolved into a sophisticated permutation of a Crescent City street parade beat.
The bouncy piece featured some call-and-response interplay by the three horn players, and even some Cuban style rhythmic grooving by young piano phenom Almazan.