Live reviews

Branford Marsalis at the Barbican

Branford Marsalis – with Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis, Justin Faulkner

(Barbican Hall. 12 July 2023. Live review by John Stevenson)

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Branford Marsalis. Photo copyright Roger Thomas

Branford Marsalis is a man of multiple talents – an award-winning saxophonist par excellence, composer and jazz educator.

He is as comfortable performing the music of Debussy and Stravinsky as he is rendering a Duke Ellington composition with stunning similarity to the Duke’s long-time tenor player, Paul Gonsalves.

Indeed, patrons attending the triumphant ‘An Evening with Branford Marsalis’ concert on 12 July (as part of the ongoing 2023 EFG London Jazz Festival Summer Series), would have heard stylistic references galore to the storied jazz saxophone tradition, with nods to John Coltrane, Jan Garbarek, Dewey Redman and Coleman Hawkins among others.

Accompanied by drummer Justin Faulkner, pianist Joey Calderazzo, and double bassist Eric Revis, Branford dedicated the evening to his late friend John Cumming, the founder of the London Jazz Festival.

The quartet kicked off proceedings with the lively Calderazzo composition ‘The Mighty Sword’, from their 2012 recording ‘Four MFs Playing Tunes.’ This is a wonderfully kinetic piece which never fails to recall (at least for this writer) the derring-do of a dirt biker descending a rocky slope at full speed, sans brakes.

The quartet was faithful to the laid-back bluesiness of Keith Jarrett’s ‘Long as you are living yours’ (from his notable ‘Belonging’ album of 1974) with heartfelt solos rendered by Marsalis on tenor and Calderazzo at the keys.

Over the years, in fact, Marsalis has shown a reverence for Jarrett’s artistry. It is always refreshing to listen to the way he successfully threads the pianist’s sensibilities into his work.

Like the pathos-drenched ‘Rose Petals’ (an obscure Jarrett composition recorded on Marsalis’s Crazy People Music of 1990), the quartet’s performance of ‘A Thousand Autumns’ (originally recorded on the 1996 pianoless trio album, ‘The Dark Keys’) came across as unremittingly sad – bringing Faulkner’s gentle brushwork and Calderazzo’s piano mastery to the fore.

The quartet’s rendition of the 1928 classic, ‘There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears’ was superb, with Branford sounding like a latter-day Frankie Trumbauer.

L-R: Julian Joseph, Cleveland Watkiss, Branford Marsalis, Eric Revis, Joey Calderazzo (arms folded), Justin Faulkner.
Photo copyright Roger Thomas

The encore numbers comprised rollicking renditions of Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ and ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’. On the latter, vocalist Cleveland Watkiss appeared on stage, delighting the audience with his scat singing while Julian Joseph replaced Calderazzo at the piano.

An excellent way to spend a balmy July evening in the City of London!

1 reply »

  1. Wonderful fresh music. Loved every second. The Quartet looked like they were enjoying themselves as much as we were.

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