Branford Marsalis Opened a Four-Night Residency With Humility and Musicianship Seldom Found at a Rock Show

Branford Marsalis Quartet. Photo from Jazz Alley

When the host at Jazz Alley introduced the Branford Marsalis Quartet last night, he informed the audience of a few of the evening's rules: no recording, no photographs, and, please, during those certain moments of the show when you know talking should be below a whisper, respect your fellow patrons and hold your tongue. Marsalis countered by stepping up to the microphone for a brief correction: "There's going to be a slight policy change," he told the packed downtown club. "Y'all can talk any time you want."

After all, the saxophonist said, so many of the classic records of the '40s and '50s from the likes of Charlie Parker, had people chatting over the top of them, and they sounded great. It was the first of several antithetical moves by the bandleader that demonstrated his self-confidence through humility and grace, unique for an artist of his caliber, particularly against the backdrop of so many divas and thin-skinned artists in the rock community.

During the set, my friend Ben Morrow--a local drummer who writes about jazz for Reverb Monthly--commented that the trio was doing most of the work, and that Marsalis was by comparison hardly playing at all. It was true, but hardly a disappointment. Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Justin Faulkner on drums spent the 90-minute set warming to a boil, building theme after theme, and roaring over the top of them.

Faulkner was particularly impressive. He's a heavy player, who plays hard and authoritatively, using his whole body to sing his parts, working up such a sweat that he grabbed a towel to wipe his brow mid-solo, and didn't miss a beat. But his forceful playing didn't stomp on his bandmates. It elevated them. It was a firmness that comes from the confidence of knowing that his colleagues could keep up, and that if he were going to do the same, he would have to employ all the facility at his disposal.

Marsalis didn't let his friends do all the work, though. His playing was tastefully reserved, picking the right notes, not the most notes during his solos. And, true to his creed, played the melodies with integrity, and didn't overstay his welcome.

After the set, Ben and I caught up with Marsalis as he was buying shots for the band at the bar. I tattled on Ben, and mentioned what he'd said about Marsalis letting the band do most of the heavy lifting. Marsalis stuck out his bottom lip with a sly grin and nodded in agreement.

"I like playing between the cracks," he said. "I got nothing to prove."

Branford Marsalis Quartet Thursday, Sept. 15 at Jazz Alley Tonight and Saturday (7:30 & 9:30), Sunday (7:30)

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