June 24, 2024


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Audiences saw Branford Marsalis Quartet showcase through their instrument at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festival 2023: Video, Photos

Every sound has its purpose, and every noise is a character. The Grammy Award winning saxophonist Branford Marsalis Quartet playing on stage at our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festivals 2023.

People do not go to a jazz show to see stellar songwriting, intense crowds or even musical innovation. They go to see character, reimagination, rearrangements of songs and onstage charisma. Audiences are there to see someone showcase themselves through their instrument. A jazz show is the musical equivalent of watching a play made up of character actors and we, as an audience, are not there to read their script.

Branford Marsalis Quartet • 2013 • Waltons New School of Music

All of the stakes in a jazz show rest on how the artist performs the music, and very rarely on which songs the artist chooses to play. Renowned saxophonist Marsalis knows this very well.

As a member of the Marsalis family, Branford grew up learning music from his father, jazz legend Ellis Marsalis, alongside his brother, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. I saw the strangest mix of demographics in attendance, with young adults in their 20’a sitting alongside older concertgoers in their 70’s.

“You wanna hear a jazz joke? I’ll tell you a jazz joke,” said Marsalis to the audience as the band set up. “A son says to his father, ‘When I grow up, I wanna be a jazz musician.’ The father says, ‘Son, ya can’t do both.’”]

Branford Marsalis Quartet's excellence is a team effort - The Boston Globe

Marsalis said yes. There was only one problem. To a packed audience, Marsalis jokingly admitted that he had thrown out the original music a while back, thinking that it would not be used again. The audience laughed in appreciation of Marsalis’ humor and his unpretentious demeanor, which throughout the night was enlivening.

The performance began with Ellington’s “I’m Slappin’ Seventh Avenue” With the Sole of My Shoe — released in 1938 and available on the album Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, Volume 2. The audience listened to their first solo of the night from Marsalis and in virtuoso effort.

Without hesitation the band began playing an incredibly high-tempo freeform opener that was, while musically and technically impressive, incredibly hard to digest and listen to. It felt like a warm-up for the group, showcasing their collective ability to play off each other at blazing speeds. Justin Faulkner’s powerhouse drumming was mesmerizing to watch, especially with the time signature changes throughout the song.

Initially the opener worried me, as I was concerned that the entirety of the concert was going to have the same intensity throughout, but the band’s second song, “A Conversation Amongst the Ruins,” put me at ease. Pianist Joey Calderazzo’s melancholy passages felt more like a soundtrack piece to a dystopian film’s score than a traditional jazz song, and it truly blew me away as a listener. The lengthy piece built slowly over the course of a few minutes, leading to a massive interlude with the full band.

Branford Marsalis Quartet at the Barbican — a fine balance of freedom and form | Financial Times

Marsalis noted his regret at not having had the time to add a visual component of Bearden’s work to the performance. Projections of paintings of Bearden’s work, which Marsalis’ album references, would have been enlightening as to why Bearden’s work was so important to the genre of jazz.

Marsalis’ playing truly shines in moments and songs like these. He is able to seamlessly blend dynamics and match the energy of a given section. Whether it be playing a loud blistering solo or a soft melodic motif, Calderazzo and Marsalis have an onstage musical camaraderie that is obvious and fascinating to watch — especially during noisier interludes in their original compositions.

On Marsalis’ tracks, Romare Bearden Revealed, many of the compositions were named after Bearden’s works, such as “Of the Blues: Carolina Shout.”

Throughout the 120 minute show, the band played a mix of original songs and older jazz standards, which gave the audience a sense of familiarity. However, the performance came with a tradeoff. While the quartet played standards like “When I Take My Sugar to Tea” beautifully, the group’s renditions were very true to the contemporary versions of the standards, and as a result came off as a bit too safe.

Another crowd favorite was “Jungle Blues’ ‘ originally written by Jelly Roll Morton in the 1920’s. The Southern, bible-belt audience noticeably rocked and head nodded, deeply pleased by the blues/gospel feel of the piece.

The length of the show was perfect, and combined both old and new songs. Marsalis and his band have shown that they are well within the mastery of their respective instruments, and that their original compositions are truly captivating to watch in a live performance.

Unfortunately, the video is not from our festival, but it was performed with the same composition and the same composition.

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