North Sea Jazz Festival 2008, Day 1-3
On the Amazon stage, scene of some of the festival's brightest moments, Branford Marsalis and his excellent quartet brought the curtain down in fitting fashion. As an intermittently underrated contributor to the post-bop idiom, Marsalis has been working solidly with Joey Calderazzo (piano), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) and Eric Revis (bass), racking up thousands of air miles on the international tour circuit. The saxophonist is distinctive as a stylist who speaks with highly contrasting tonal voices on tenor and soprano: in the first place brawny and muscular, but with a delicate quavering vibrato as the hallmark of his sound on the smaller horn. Tain's composition "Return of the Jitney Man" was a forceful opening statement. Marsalis's tenor spewed out a cascade of blistering runs, and Calderazzo's burning lyrical lines bounced off the keys with verve and zest. A free-time ballad calmed things down as the drummer's rubato shading afforded space for a mournful, emotional soprano solo that evoked the essence of a funeral song. The group's variety of moods and ease in handling sophisticated compositional ideas is testament to Marsalis's skill as a leader. While his trumpeter brother Wynton remains a staunch protagonist of the old school modus operandi, it is wonderful to see Branford pushing the music forward with this terrific array of sidemen. He needs to hold onto them as long as he can.
A quick wander revealed the ultimate festival finale was in fact taking place back at the Nile arena, where veteran bluesman Buddy Guy was playing out to a boisterous pack of ecstatic revellers. Although most of the serious music seemed to have been and gone, Guy was in his element, shouting, singing, showboating on guitar and even leaving the stage to enter the crowd. He is an old expert at instigating a strong rapport with the audience so, when he finally exited to a mountainous cheer, there could have been no better way to finish the weekend.