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Branford Marsalis Duo and Quartet

by Jeff Nania on February 9, 2012


Everybody take a deep breath and slow down. This seemed to be the message emanating from the drunken neoclassical waltz “La Valse Kendall,” which saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo opened with at Proctors this past Friday. The tune was a reprieve from the busy modern world that existed just outside the doors of the theater. The distinction between written melody and spontaneous improvisation was difficult to define on this one. The solos were like classical improvisations with melodious phrases that grew in speed and dynamic. Marsalis’ soprano varied from a legit classical sound to a raucous, wailing Klezmer clarinet sound from the turn of the century.

These classical-sounding pieces were interspersed with jazzier pieces like the strident and simple blues “One Way” that saw Calderazzo break into a solo that made the grand piano sound like a honky old upright in a barroom. Marsalis played a thunderous Sonny Rollins-style tenor on this one, as Calderazzo audibly groaned along. He seemed to be singing out the upper extensions of the chords he layed down.

This show took full advantage of the Proctors facility. It was especially true in the duo format. Marsalis would finish playing a soprano melody or solo, turn around and disappear into the shadows, as if walking through a solid pane separating the light and darkness. With Marsalis in the darkness, the spotlight focused on Calderazzo, who never once stuttered even at his most exposed moments.

As a duo, Marsalis and Calderazzo stuck to tunes off their new album Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. They ended with Calderazzo’s rollicking composition “Bri’s Dance.” The solo section went just about everywhere tonally and sped up to a breakneck pace where the changes went whipping by. The audience, who respectfully listened without chitchat, finally gave a rise of shouts and applause as Calderazzo and Marsalis traded phrases. Eventually Calderazzo was digging in and blazing through the form so hard that it was like a deep breath when he gradually slowed down and reprised the original melody to end the 40-minute duo set.

After a brief intermission, the quartet featuring bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner (in addition to Marsalis and Calderazzo) took the stage. Calderazzo again quoted “Bri’s Dance,” which gave a strengthened sense of coherence between duo and quartet sets.

“How about that drummer?” was the most popular thing to say after the concert. The 20-year-old Faulkner is one of these truly interactive drummers who never loses focus or falls into a passive role. When any soloist played an interesting line, Faulkner was right there to repeat the line rhythmically and carry it through its logical extensions. This “always on” level of interaction was apparent from each member. During a tenor solo, Marsalis blew a line and then glided over to the piano, giving Calderazzo a look like “whatchou think about that?” Calderazzo had a few bars of response and Marsalis slid back to center stage and finished his train of thought. After the quartet finished their set, and the crowd gave a standing ovation, the group returned to stage and Marsalis said, “OK, we goin’ old-school now,” and they broke into a Marsalis original called “Treat It Gentle,” which was a tribute to the early soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet.

Contrast was the overarching theme of this concert. Literally light versus dark, jazz versus classical, duo versus quartet. Even the jazzy stuff was broken into subcategories. A Monk tune, a modern jazz tune by Eric Revis, a NOLA-style blues. There seemed to be something for everyone. The spirit of the variety show still dwells within this theater.