28 Tenor Titans – Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis, tenor and soprano saxophone maestro and member of the important musical clan, emerged forty years ago in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and as a sideman in his brother Wynton’s early endeavors. For thirty years, the primary vehicle for his own releases has been predominantly the sax – piano – bass – drums quartet but recently he has produced work in a duo with long-time collaborator, pianist Joey Calderazzo. He continues to also flourish in outside projects with other jazz leaders. The final of four programs featuring today’s Tenor Titans – recent music from Branford Marsalis in this hour of Jazz at 100 Today!

The personnel in Marsalis’s quartet has only gradually shifted over the years making it one of the more stable units in the jazz world. Bassist Eric Reeves joined the quartet in 1998 and pianist Joey Calderazzo the next year. Drummer Justin Faulkner replaced long-time quartet member Jeff “Tain” Watts in 2011, rounding out the current quartet.

In 2018, the Quartet released its most recent disc, The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul, and the communication between the players telegraphs the commitment they have made to producing music together.

Marsalis also continues to participate as a guest in a range of projects including the 2013 release by pianist Chucho Valdez and the Afro-Cuban Messengers, Border-Free, and the 2011 release JAZZaNOVA by drummer Akira Tana.

Cianna. Branford Marsalis Quartet
(Branford Marsalis-sax, Joey Calderazzo-p, Eric Revis-b, Justin Faulkner-d). From The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul. Marsalis Music. 2018.
Bebo. Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers with Branford Marsalis
(Reinaldo Meilan Alvarez-tp, Marsalis-ts, Chucho Valdés-p, Ángel Gastón Joya Perellada-b/voc, Rodney Barreto Illarza-d/voc, Yaroldy Abreu Robles -per/voc, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé-voc/bata). From Border-Free. Jazz Village. 2013.
Aquele Frevo Axe. Akira Tana & DIVaNOVA
Branford Marsalis-ts, Peter Horvath-p, Ricardo Peixoto-g, Gary Brown-b, Akira Tana-d, Michael Spiro-per, Claudio Amara-voc). From JAZZaNOVA. Vega Music. 2011.

In 2012, Marsalis pursued a solo recording project that became the disc In My Solitude – Live At Grace Cathedral. Of the release, Angelo Leonardi wrote on AllAboutJazz, “Rather than engaging in exploring the technical limits or forcing the expressive possibilities of the instrument … Marsalis focuses on two aspects: on the one hand the melodic dimension of improvisation and on the other the component of sound, seen in relation to the magnificent acoustics of the cathedral. These choices make him avoid those dangers of excessive introspection and narcissistic experimentation that manifested themselves in the [solo saxophone recordings of the]1970s. Marsalis’ first interest is in fact to communicate with the public, avoiding self-referential forcing: ‘Playing a bunch of notes can be impressive at first’ – said the saxophonist – ‘but this will soon make all the songs appear similar. So the repertoire I have played at Grace Cathedral was based on strongly melodic pieces, using the feeling of the environment ‘… [His] performance of [Hoagy Charmichael’s] Stardust always remains close to the original melody (in a thematic improvisation exemplary for balance and lyricism).” Stardust was first recorded by the Chocolate Dandies led by Don Redman in 1928.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet released a terrific disc in 2012, Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, the first since drummer Justin Faulkner stepped in for “Tain” Watts. Side-by-side with compositions from the band, the quartet performs My Ideal, a tune that was debuted by Coleman Hawkins in 1942.

Stardust. Branford Marsalis solo
(Branford Marsalis-ts). From In My Solitude – Live At Grace Cathedral. Marsalis Music. 2015.
My Ideal. Branford Marsalis Quartet
(Branford Marsalis-sax, Joey Calderazzo-p, Eric Revis-b, Justin Faulkner-d). From Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. Marsalis Music. 2012.

In a departure for Branford Marsalis, in 201 1, he released a duo album with long-time collaborator, pianist Joey Caldarazzo, Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy. Mark F. Turner wrote, “The mirth [in the title] begins with Calderazzo’s One Way, a rousing, bluesy piece that strolls down the boulevard like a conversation between two old souls. It sounds like it could have been written in the 1920s, and swings eternally; the piano’s ragtag stride provides the perfect foil for the tenor’s vociferous backtalk.”

In the end, the sax – piano – bass – drums quartet remains Branford Marsalis’ preferred format often representing the best of his work. We’ll finish with one more song from Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, Marsalis’s knotty hard bop romp, Whiplash.

One Way. Branford Marsalis – Joey Calderazzo duo
(Branford Marsalis-ts, Joey Calderazzo-p). From Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy. Marsalis Music. 2011.
Whiplash. Branford Marsalis Quartet
(Branford Marsalis-sax, Joey Calderazzo-p, Eric Revis-b, Justin Faulkner-d). From Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. Marsalis Music. 2012.

While Wynton Marsalis may be the most visible member of the family with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as his bully pulpit, brother Branford Marsalis is known as a formidable improvisor and bandleader who has earned a place as one of the giants of the tenor and soprano saxes. His musical curiosity has led to significant diversity in his discography often within the limits of his favored format – the quartet.

Collette, Doug. (2019, March 15). AllAboutJazz. The Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between The Shadow And The Soul. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/the-secret-between-the-shadow-and-the-soul-the-branford-marsalis-quartet-okeh-review-by-doug-collette.php

DaGama, Raul. (2013, May 21). Latin Jazz Network. Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers: Border-Free. https://latinjazznet.com/reviews/cds/featured-albums/chucho-valdes-and-the-afro-cuban-messengers-border-free/

Leonardi, Angelo. (2015, April 20). Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude – Live At Grace Cathedral. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/in-my-solitude-live-at-grace-cathedral-branford-marsalis-okeh-review-by-angelo-leonardi.php

Bilawsky, Dan. (2012, August 1). AllAboutJazz. Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/four-mfs-playin-tunes-branford-marsalis-marsalis-music-review-by-dan-bilawsky.php

Turner, Mark F. (2011, May 30). AllAboutJazz. Branford Marsalis / Joey Calderazzo: Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/songs-of-mirth-and-melancholy-branford-marsalis-marsalis-music-review-by-mark-f-turner.php

For other programs in Jazz at 100 Today! visit: Jazz at 100 Today!

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