[JPL] Music Review | 'Branford Marsalis Quartet'...NYTimes

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 9 18:28:47 EDT 2006

October 7, 2006
Music Review | 'Branford Marsalis Quartet'
Quartet Hopes to Sweep Weekend Series 
The Mets muscled past the Dodgers at Shea Stadium on
Wednesday to win Game 1 of the National League
Division Series, kicking off their first postseason
run in six years. 

Wait, isn’t this a jazz review? Yes, and the sports
angle holds. After all, the saxophonist Branford
Marsalis played the national anthem before Wednesday’s
game. And the next evening his quartet began a
four-night series of its own at the Jazz Standard,
approaching the occasion with competitive vigor.

As a bandleader Mr. Marsalis takes more than the usual
pride in cohesive athleticism. The photograph on the
front cover of his new album, “Braggtown” (Marsalis
Music), depicts his band members standing around a
locker room, with deadpan don’t-mess-with-us poses.
(On the back cover they’re pictured seated, and Mr.
Marsalis has a baseball in hand.) The album’s
suggestively boastful title fits too, even though it
refers to a section of Durham, N.C., the city where
Mr. Marsalis resides. 

Thursday’s early set began with the same invocation as
the album, a piece by Mr. Marsalis called “Jack
Baker.” (The title probably pays tribute to an
infielder on the Red Sox roster of 1976.) Structured
around the repetition of a three-bar phrase, the song
was chantlike, though hardly tranquil: it reached
clearly toward the polyrhythmic fury of the John
Coltrane Quartet. 

In his piano solo Joey Calderazzo held fast to that
frame of reference, sounding uncannily like the young
McCoy Tyner. Mr. Marsalis followed suit, beginning his
improvisation with a quavering polytonal cry. Eric
Revis played a walking bass line suggestive of Jimmy
Garrison’s. And Jeff (Tain) Watts delivered a personal
variation on Elvin Jones’s percussive style; he also
took the most melodic solo turn, delineating the
song’s structure from within a cyclone of cymbals and

This all added up to a bruising physical exertion. And
the band continued along those lines with “Samo,” an
odd-metered scrap of a tune by Mr. Watts. By contrast,
its take on “Nutty,” a more substantive Thelonious
Monk composition, seemed to lack a center. Though
competently performed, it didn’t showcase the
quartet’s capacity for total mind-and-body engagement.

They were more in the zone on “Hope,” an
impressionistic ballad by Mr. Calderazzo. There was
nothing inherently kinetic about the tune, which began
with quiet chords on the piano and bell-like tones
coaxed by Mr. Watts from an asterisk-shaped cymbal.
But the meditative intensity it inspired from the band
was deeply powerful.

Mr. Marsalis constructed his soprano solo in oratory
fashion, developing melodic motifs as if they were
points in an argument or a sermon. As he progressed,
the intensity mounted, along with the harmonic
tension. So when he finally hit upon the root of the
song, there was a sense of triumph as well as of
resolution: it felt as if he had knocked one out of
the park.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet plays through tomorrow
at the Jazz Standard, 116 East 27th Street, Manhattan;
(212) 576-2232.

Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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