Sunday, October 13, 2013

THE 2013-2014 PARADISE VALLEY JAZZ SERIES OPENED WITH A SPELLBINDING SHOW FROM THE BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET

Joye Calderazzo, Eric Revis, Branford Marsalis, and Justin Faulkner
Midway through “Teo,” the third tune the Branford Marsalis Quartet played Friday evening at the Paradise Valley Jazz Series in Detroit, I was convinced the quartet was the series' best opening act in years. The quartet have been together for 15 years. That might explain why pianist Joey Calderazzo's, bassist Eric Revis', and Justin Faulkner's musical psyches are interlocked.  

The hour and 45 minute concert was the most spellbinding I have witnessed all the years I have covered the jazz series. That is worth noting because some of the series’ previous opening acts were Cassandra Wilson, Stanley Clarke, Sonny Rollins and Ramsey Lewis. Each put on memorable concerts.  

Before trumpeter Terence Blanchard introduced the quartet, he credited Detroit for having the most intelligent jazz audience he has performed for. Then he shared some memories of his lifelong friendship with Marsalis, recalling when they were kids in music camp together horsing around instead of practicing. I took that as Blanchard and Marsalis were so musically advanced as kids they did not need much practicing.

After sharing that bit of their history, Blanchard introduced the quartet. A few days ago, they had returned from a tour in Taiwan. Marsalis kidded about how it was the first time the band has seen the sunlight in days. An avid baseball fan Marsalis spoke glowingly about the Detroit Tigers and their ace Justin Verlander. That was it for the pleasantries.

Joey Calderazzo and Marsalis toyed with the melody of the first tune “Endymion” before launching a full-blown attack that lasted the entire concert. Calderazzo is a jazz pianist with a bottomless imagination. Frankly, he is also the heart of the quartet. If Marsalis wanted to take a sabbatical, Calderazzo could competently run things. In fact, at various moments of the concert, it sounded as if the quartet was his baby.  

Marsalis likes to play a lot of notes. On “The Mighty Sword,” he played every note available to a musician. He bent notes, stretched them like slingshots, picked them apart and reassemble them piece by piece. All night long, his blowing was a thing of beauty.

Save for two tunes, the quartet played extended versions of the music from their brilliant 2012 album “Four MF’s Playin’ Tunes”. That album marked the first time drummer Justin Faulkner, who took over for Jeff “Tain” Watts three years ago, recorded with the quartet. I caught Faulkner with the quartet at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival. Back then, he was a tad cautious but exuded promise. He has proven to be a wise hire. 

Throughout the concert, he resembled Watts when Watts was the quartet’s muscle. Faulkner was brash, animated, and too aggressive at times. On the encore, “Return of the Jitney Man,” Faulkner beat the drums like a disgruntled employee. And the audience ate it up.

A  memorable highlight was Blanchard joining the quartet to play Irvin Berlin’s “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”. In May, Blanchard put out “Magnetic” one of his finest albums.  And this month, he is on the cover of Jazz Times. 

On Berlin’s classic, Blanchard was fiery. The flames from his trumpet could have singed the eyebrows of the people seated up high in the cheap seats. By concert end, I was certain the Branford Marsalis Quartet is the tightest most engaging jazz quartet I have heard. What a fitting way to open the Paradise Jazz Series.
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