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Author: Cliff Bellamy
Mar. 20—North Carolina Symphony, Grant Llewellyn, conductor American Spectrum (BIS Records)
Branford Marsalis Quartet Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music)
These two recently released CDs, both recorded locally, have some mood- and mind-altering music in them. I’m not using those phrases to be flippant or condescending. More than any substance or spirits ever invented, great music can draw you out of whatever funk or slump you may be in, force you to focus on the sounds you are hearing, and in the process leave you feeling refreshed, your mind clearer. The N.C. Symphony’s American Spectrum and the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s Metamorphosen are two such musical experiences.
Durham resident and saxophonist Marsalis is a common denominator on both releases. On the symphony CD (recorded in Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh), Marsalis and his quartet perform composer Ned Rorem’s Lions (A Dream), and Marsalis plays alto on John Williams’ composition Escapades for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra. The latter piece is one of the highlights of this recording. Williams adapted it for Marsalis and orchestra based on his musical score for the film Catch Me If You Can. The opening movement has an urgent quality. Marsalis’ playing of the theme is juxtaposed with finger snaps from the orchestra. The other two movements are slower, more pastoral variations on this theme.
Of the pieces for orchestra alone, Christopher Rouse’s Friandises is a five-movement piece written for dancers, but much of its beauty to the listener lies in its tone-poem qualities.
American Spectrum is a welcome and adventurous milestone for this state’s symphony.
Metamorphosen, the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s new release, the followup to Braggtown, was recorded at Hayti Heritage Center. The ensemble of Marsalis on saxophones, Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Jeff Tain Watts on drums work through a set of nine mostly original compositions of wide ranging mood.
Watts’ The Return of the Jitney Man and Marsalis Jabberwocky just kick, with powerful bass playing and floating, seemingly effortless solos. Calderazzo’s The Blossom of Parting recalls the mood of some of Billy Strayhorn’s ballads. Marsalis’ soprano playing fits well with the mood of this moving composition, one that should convince listeners who have written off jazz to turn their heads. Sphere, with its quirky intervals, pays appropriate and infectious homage to Thelonious Monk. Revis’ composition And Then, He Was Gone is a bass solo. The bass is so important to the sound of this music, but listeners too often don’t get to hear the full beauty of this instrument. Revis’ solo performance is a fine exception.
The band is the theme, Marsalis says of this release on his Web site. On Metamorphosen, maestros Marsalis, Calderazzo, Revis and Watts show us just how comfortable they have become as a unit.