BRANFORD Marsalis named his most recent recording Metamorphosen to signal the continuing musical evolution of his celebrated quartet over the past decade. The band’s first line-up change came just as Metamorphosen was released in early 2009, with 18-year-old drummer Justin Faulkner replacing the legendary Jeff ”Tain” Watts.
One year on, Faulkner appears completely comfortable in the engine room of this distinguished ensemble. At Hamer Hall on Tuesday night, the teenage drummer was a powerhouse of energy, driving much of the band’s dynamics as he locked in tightly with bassist Eric Revis. But Faulkner is also an expressive colourist, adorning the quieter pieces with beautifully restrained brush and cymbal accents.
Tuesday’s program drew from a wide range of source material, setting originals by Marsalis, Revis and pianist Joey Calderazzo alongside tunes by Thelonious Monk, W. C. Handy and even Henry Purcell. Calderazzo’s wistful ballad Hope was a highlight, with Marsalis’ limpid lines on soprano saxophone melting into an exquisite, unaccompanied piano solo. And on Purcell’s O Solitude, Revis’ bass padded majestically as the bandleader’s tenor moved across the melody in graceful counterpoint.
From there, the energy began to snowball, propelling the players in loose-limbed spurts through a new, untitled composition before reaching a peak on Monk’s 52nd Street Theme. This final piece saw Marsalis and Calderazzo exchanging playfully urgent flurries before Faulkner took the spotlight for an extended (and explosive) drum solo.
Not surprisingly, the audience demanded an encore - and was rewarded withwonderfully relaxed, New Orleans-style blues to bring the evening to a close.