BURLINGTON--Among the slew of tenor players in the jazz world, it might be easy to overlook Branford Marsalis, or at least take him for granted. He's not as flashy as a Joshua Redman or Chris Potter, and he spent his early years in the shadow of his younger but slightly better-known brother Wynton. But over all this time, he's been building up a solid body of work, which was on display tonight at the Flynn Center.
Though Marsalis has worked with groups of a variety of sizes over the years, it's his quartet (Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; and "new" drummer Justin Faulkner, who's been with the group for three years but only one recording) that serves as his primary vehicle. During a pre-concert interview/Q&A session with noted jazz writer Bob Blumenthal, he stated that the reason for doing this was similar to why so many of the great classical composers kept returning to writing for the string quartet: "Because it works." And with the longevity of this working group, they've been able to build up a solid repertoire of original compositions and the occasional standard that encompass a variety of styles.
After making his name as mostly a tenor player, Marsalis has spent quite a bit of time on soprano sax lately, even recording a classical album on the little horn a while back. And while his soprano work often does have a classical bent to it, his tone quality on it is full and beautiful (and, yes, in tune), and the improvisation never strays far from jazz.
The group's newest recording, released last August, is called Four MFs Playin' Tunes, and that's certainly both cheeky and understated, as these are no ordinary MFs. The presence of Calderazzo alone adds a major element to this group, as it becomes a powerful trio in its own right when the leader isn't soloing; the pianist also adds many fine compositions to the mix, including tonight's opener, "The Mighty Sword," which also serves as the lead track for the newest album. Revis provides a solid foundation throughout, especially on the ostinato bass lines that underpin so many of the group's tunes, and he adds tasty solos when called for. New drummer Faulkner, younger than his bandmates, provided energy and creativity throughout.
In the pre-concert session with Blumenthal, Marsalis stated what he believes to be the problem with many jazz musicians these days: The tendency to go for technique at the expense of communication and emotional connection with the listener. And while some of his tunes may be a bit angular and less-than-singable by the average Joe on the street, there is certainly a lot to be enjoyed here by jazz fans who aren't working musicians themselves. While the programming may have been unusual--the group closed with the ballad "As Summer Into Autumn Slips" (also from the new album), after playing what Marsalis dubbed the "big song" (did anyone get a title on that?)--there was a lot to be enjoyed tonight. And the encore, "Tiger Rag" (yes, that one) closed the evening in rollicking fashion.
He may get taken for granted a lot, but I for one am glad that Branford is around; he's making great contributions to the music that can't be ignored.
Another voice:,/b> Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press has his take on the concert.