Branford Marsalis Quartet: 'Just' Playin' Jazz

Publication: Martinez News-Gazette
Author: Gordon R. Webb
Date: September 30, 2012

Fellow musicians, critics and the listening public alike must have thought jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis had lost his mind back in 2009, when he hired 18-year-old Justin Faulkner to replace Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. After all, Watts – regarded by many as the preeminent jazz drummer of his generation – had been in Marsalis’ quartet for nearly a quarter century and Faulkner was still in high school! But as we all know, there is a fine line between genius and insanity, and as it turns out, Marsalis’ decision was crazy-smart.

It was a sure thing!” says Marsalis. “I heard him play a slow blues and that was it … I knew it. He understood how to groove, and that the key to swinging isn’t in the beats you play, it’s the space in-between the beats … and he had a great left hand. The kid was raw, but the potential was there and I knew we could teach him everything else.”

After a two year jazz ed incubation period, Marsalis ushered Faulkner and longtime collaborators Joey Calderazzo (piano, since 1999) and Eric Revis (bass, since 1997) into a Durham, N.C., church last October, to record tracks for a new album. The results were released in August 2012 on CD and vinyl, entitled “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes (Marsalis Music).” But please don’t let the off-hand title fool you into thinking the new record is some half-hearted jam session, because this is serious, modern jazz, spiritedly performed at an extraordinarily high level. The title comes from there being no overall concept or theme involved in the making of “Four MFs Playin‘ Tunes.”

Our concept is just to play jazz,” says Marsalis in the overview promo video. “Learn 100 years of it … and play whatever.”

Every moment of “whatever” has a refreshingly loose, living-in-the-moment feel, but it’s a well-rehearsed spontaneity that comes from years of building trust on the bandstand. Read more »

Marsalis Music Interviews Art Director Steven Jurgensmeyer

Steven Jurgensmeyer began his career as the Art Director at the trailblazing record label Rykodisc, working closely with Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, Bob Mould, Robert Cray and Morphine, among others. He joined Rounder Records as Creative Director, working with musicians such as Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, Harry Connick Jr, and Madeleine Peyroux. He is now the principal in his own studio and has worked with Carly Simon, Dan Zanes, Richard Lewis, the legendary Jamaican label Studio One and, of course, Branford Marsalis. His work can be seen at www.stevenjurgensmeyer.com.

Marsalis Music: You were the Art Director for Branford’s two latest recording projects, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy and Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. Could you please explain your concept for each project?
 
Steven Jurgensmeyer: It was a great pleasure working directly with Branford on Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. He sent me a CD of the music and asked me to “design what I heard.” Upon hearing the music, two things struck me pretty immediately; one was the openness of the music, and the space “between” the notes. The second was the obvious familiarity and intimacy between Branford and Joey. So… you had two really contrasting ideas at play here, and I really wanted to create something beautiful, that would stand the test of time and sit comfortably amongst the classic album covers from Blue Note and Prestige. I knew a sense of scale was going to be a key to success; luckily, we were able to utilize this wonderful, towering wall in the Museum of Fine Arts’ new “Art of the Americas” wing. I loved the stone and the natural light; it really filled the “spacious” role, but also became another player in the composition. The “other thing” I needed to capture was the familiarity Branford and Joey share as musicians. They brought that naturally with their personalities and relationship. There was a lot of clowning around (as the outtakes attest!), but their body language in the final shot provided exactly what was needed. Photographer Stephen Sheffield caught that moment; I knew immediately that this shot was the cover. The typography is a nod to the simplicity and grace of that classic era of jazz sleeves and to the album’s title. This cover is my favorite piece in my career to date.

With Four MFs, we wanted to illustrate the importance of each band member and their musical personality and contributions in this particular quartet, as they had really jelled into a formidable unit. I knew I wanted “motion” to serve as the metaphor for the music and, in turn, highlight each musician in focus, while the others “played” around him or her. A friend recommended photographer Eric Ryan Anderson, who uses a lot of motion techniques; he was game and the shoot was on. As with any shoot, no matter how tightly scripted, you always have to improvise and we worked the quartet hard to get those shots! It was an incredibly difficult shoot; a lot of fun, to be sure, but a long day and hard work.

Marsalis Music: What was the biggest challenge during the Four MFs shoot?
 
SJ: The biggest challenge of theFour MFs shoot was keeping the guys moving and staying out of the subject’s way so that he remained the focus. It’s not easy to plan and direct spontaneity! Read more »

Marsalis Wows in First of Candler Series

Publication: Emory Wheel
Author: Monica Yang
Date: September 24, 2012

On Friday evening at 8 p.m., I found myself sitting amongst a packed audience at Emory’s very own Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, eagerly waiting “An Evening with Branford Marsalis” to begin, the kick-off show for the 2012-2013 Flora Glenn Candler Concert Series.

The evening marked the first of eight shows this year. The Candler Concert Series are incredible opportunities to see world-famous performers showcase their talents right on our campus.

Branford Marsalis, the lead saxophonist, is not only a well-known musician, but he is also a Tony Award-nominated composer and a three-time Grammy Award winner. The famous jazz quartet included Branford Marsalis on saxophone, Joey Calderazzo on the piano, Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on the drums.

The quartet tuned their instruments, and Marsalis stepped up to the microphone to welcome the crowd. He threw out a few well-received jokes, setting a light-hearted mood in the theater. Afterwards, the jazz quartet began their performance with a riveting piece called “The Mighty Sword,” written by Marsalis.

Any lingering sereneness departed from the audience, as the unpredictable and wild nature that is jazz filled the room. Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on September 28th, 2012 — 09:10am

Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook Receives Latin Grammy Nomination

On September 25, 2012, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (LARAS) announced nominations for the XIII Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards. Congrats to Miguel Zenón for his nomination! Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook, Miguel’s collection of reinterpreted Puerto Rican standards, was nominated for Best Instrumental Album. Alma Adentro was also nominated during the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. The XIII Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards will be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and will be broadcast live on the Univision Network on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Submitted by Courtney on September 27th, 2012 — 03:02pm

Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin' Tunes

Publication: Relix
Author: Jeff Tamarkin
Date: October/November issue

When preparing for their new album, the Branford Marsalis Quartet—with recently recruited drummer Justin Faulkner making his recorded debut with the band (the others are bassist Eric Revis and pianist Joey Calderazzo)—decided to focus not so much on the in-your-face virtuosity that’s always been incontestable, but on song structures. Some might argue that, for all of its dexterity, this band has always known its way around a lyrical melody, but rarely did one come away from a Branford Marsalis set humming. That’s doable here: Read more »

Submitted by Courtney on September 25th, 2012 — 10:32am