[JPL] Branford Marsalis: Chasing a runaway 'Trane

Lazaro Vega wblv.wblu.fm at gmail.com
Tue Mar 8 00:19:54 EST 2005

That's some recording, the DVD version. 

Lazaro Vega

On Wed, 31 Dec 1969 20:19:41 -0400, Steve Schwartz
<steve_schwartz at wgbh.org> wrote:
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> >From The Independent (UK):
> Branford Marsalis: Chasing a runaway 'Trane
> The saxophonist Branford Marsalis tells Martin Longley why he has taken on
> John Coltrane's visionary masterpiece A Love Supreme
> 04 March 2005
> Branford Marsalis is sitting in the coffee space of New York's Sterling
> Sound recording studios. His hands are flat on the table, his mind focused,
> his mouth primed to set off on a speech about the current state of music,
> jazz in particular, and art in general. His brother Wynton may have the
> reputation for controversy, but the saxophonist is equally opinionated, with
> a markedly more modernist approach to the music.
> Even though he's the eldest of pianist Ellis Marsalis's offspring, Branford
> appears youthful, preferring Hip-Hop casual to studiously be-suited. He is
> about to sit in on a mastering session for saxophonist Miguel Zenon's new
> album, to be released on his own Marsalis Music imprint.
> Branford was signed to Columbia for nearly two decades before realising the
> best survival technique was to found his own outlet. Late last year, he
> released the evocative Eternal, an album devoted to ballads. Many such
> albums are mellow and bland, but Eternal's bittersweet mix of desolation and
> ecstasy, the music swirling with a sense of barely-concealed tension,
> captures the secret of romantic wistfulness.
> Branford's latest release is a DVD and CD of his quartet's storming live
> performance of A Love Supreme, recorded at Amsterdam's Bimhuis Club. Filmed
> on the second night of their residency, the cameras prowl around in a murk
> of tasteful lighting, at the service of the music rather than distracting
> with quick MTV-style edits. Included on the DVD is a lengthy conversation
> between Branford and multi-instrumentalist Alice Coltrane, John's widow and
> collaborator.
> "It all happened by accident," Branford recalls. "We were in Paris, and I
> got into this debate with a writer there. He was saying, what do you think
> of European jazz? He went into this long-winded thing about America not
> being an inspiration any more. He was basically saying that jazz can be
> whatever we want it to be. I said, look man, I'd just like to hear them play
> something like A Love Supreme. And he says, I haven't heard you play A Love
> Supreme. I said, well, you comin' to the concert tonight? All right. You'll
> hear it. So, I tell the guys in the band, we're playing A Love Supreme
> tonight, and they're, like, cool. We played it before. Nuthin' special. But
> this time it just clicked, as a group. It was magical. We were exhausted at
> the end of it. I bit through my lip and didn't realise until the next day.
> There was dried blood all over the mouthpiece. One of the ways that jazz
> musicians have gone wrong is that we no longer address the physical reality
> of playing as a group. It was great to be in a moment where we had
> transcended that physical threshold to the point that I could bite through
> my lip, and not even realise it because of the zone that we were in. That
> was when I made the decision that we should record it."
> They performed the work a couple of times at New York's Village Vanguard.
> "It's not the kind of piece you play gratuitously. It's too difficult!
> That's why people avoid it. Everything else you play pales into
> insignificance."
> "But I don't buy into the sacrosanct bullshit," he sneers, pondering why few
> players dare to approach this work. "It's not a coincidence to me that the
> majority of the Coltrane that is embraced is the stuff from the Atlantic
> period, because it's the music that can be easily codified. I don't buy it,
> I think they're just afraid of the piece. That's why we went after it. I
> didn't know whether we had the stuff to play it, but you only live once. I'm
> not going to be a punk and hide in a closet. 'Well, I'm only interested in
> my own music.' All these catchphrases that you hear, they're just metaphors
> for fear of being exposed as a person who is not thorough enough in
> research, not thorough enough in an understanding of history."
> Marsalis now has a steely-eyed view of his place in the jazz firmament. He
> looks back on youthful folly, rejecting where necessary, applauding himself
> where he thinks it's deserved. "We did a version of A Love Supreme in 1991.
> It was a failure. I didn't know enough about the blues.
> "Coltrane grew up in Hamlet, North Carolina, an immensely segregated small
> town. In a place like that, you can assume that every thing that has to do
> with black America can be found in a one-mile strip: the houses, the juke
> joints, the church. It's hot as bejeezus, so the windows are open. As a kid,
> if you play on the street you can't help but hear whatever's going on. This
> is before clubs were sent to zoned districts. There was a bar right next to
> our house. They'd swing the doors open and the majority of the people are
> outside on the street, and the music is coming out of the door... You'd hear
> the church music, the blues, the gospel shit, and it just became a part of
> you. We're now in a period where people call themselves jazz musicians and
> they don't have any relationship to that experience. We can't go back in
> time, though. That's not what I'm suggesting."
> The usual Marsalis album gameplan is to mix standards and original
> compositions, with writing duties divided up between the leader, pianist
> Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff 'Tain' Watts. This is a
> stable line-up that enjoys an intuitive rapport, built up over many years.
> Later that night, Marsalis began another week at the Village Vanguard. The
> quartet launched straight into a ferociously intense opening statement, with
> Branford's extended solo tackling every intimate corner of the cramped
> space.
> Marsalis is amused when some audience members have a problem dealing with
> the fact that the quartet laugh a lot when they're performing. "I have no
> compunction to give them a visual aid. Some people are put off that we act
> like a bunch of asses up there. Some people are frustrated, because they're
> coming to hear African-American classical music."
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