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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy

Joey Calderazzo has been playing the piano in Branford Marsalis superb quartet since about 1998, when Kenny Kirkland died and left a gaping hole. Both as a composer and as a pianist, it has been a period of great development for the pianist. On Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, Calderazzo shares composing credits with Branford, and they deliver a frequently delicate program of crystalline duets. The influence of classical music is particularly strong here—something that is rare in jazz, and rarely pulled off with grace and ease.

Marsalis plays mostly his soprano saxophone here, and he sounds great—graceful, emotional, and perfectly in tune. Wayne Shorter's "Face on the Barroom Floor" (from the Weather Report album Sportin' Life) is the only non-original song, and it reminds us the degree to which Branford has continued Shorter's legacy on soprano—the younger player sounds a great deal like the composer here, yet he also finds his own sound. Mostly, however, these sides are fresh and non-imitative. Calderazzo and Marsalis find ways to play uniquely as a duet, not just comping and soloing but truly playing as two interlocked voices.

The set is ballad-heavy, to be sure, but the more uptempo songs are thrilling. Marsalis's "Endymion" is composed in a Keith Jarrett mode, and it surges forward with great momentum and excitement. Calderazzo's opener, "One Way" is built on a funky/Monk-ish piano figure that allows Branford's tenor to get dirty on top.

My full review of Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy can be found here.

On the slower songs, the duo is explicitly classical in style and intent, even playing Brahams's "Die Trauernde". This means that the piano will be playing a specific line in contrast to the saxophone rather than just rhythmic chords and that the articulation of both instruments is less likely to be swinging and urgent than delicately placed and tonally pure. It's unusual to hear jazz musicians make these choices so explicitly, but why should it be? It's a refreshing direction for a pair of wonderful players.

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