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Joey Calderazzo: Improviser in Top Form

By Published: December 19, 2011
He says his relationship with Marsalis is one that works superbly from a musical standpoint. "After 11 years of playing with Branford, I'm still nervous to play with him. I'm comfortable, but ... And I had the same thing with Mike [Brecker]. Mike kept you on the top of your game. Whether you like the way he played or not—because I've met people who loved his playing and people who don't—but the one thing that's undeniable is his playing, his attack of the instrument, what he brought to the table. Night after night, Mike brought it. He would go to the sound checks and would sit at the venue and practice for hours. He's ready to go. Michael was a true professional. He played every performance like it was going to be his last.

"Branford's attitude is not that. It's a funny thing. My take on it is, no matter where it is, it's just another performance. The two of them are polar opposites, but it works for each one of them. It's very interesting. I've learned from both of them."

The duet record with Marsalis is one of quality, Calderazzo says, but oddly that might not be noticed by everyone. The music on it is mostly written by the two mates. The tempos are slow to medium. Marsalis' sound is typically rich, and he's always resourceful, very expressive. Bold or nuanced, brazen or thoughtful, he has the technique and artistic sensibility to cover it all. Calderazzo, for his part, shows many sides: stride-like moments on "One Way"; tender on "The Bard Lachrymose" and "Hope"; fleet and frisky on "Endymion." Throughout the disc, the conversations between the two merge in a manner that appears effortless. Each knows where the other is and where they're going. There's only one fast tune, the closer "Bri's Dance," where both are more playful.

"The thing that's cool about that tune is there are two chords to every measure. There are a lot of chord changes in that song," he explains. "It's like 'Giant Steps' with even more chords. At points, it sounds like it's free. What's cool about that is none of it's free. We don't go out of time. The time is constant: one, two, three four, one, two, three, four—with all those chords going by. But Branford and I are somewhere else. To me, that was very cool. I ran into [pianist] Phil Markowitz in Denmark, and we were hanging out listening to music. I played it for him. He said, 'You're playing that free?' I said no. I counted. I showed him where the time was, where the form was. He was, like, 'That's pretty cool.' It's very subtle. You would think we got 'out.' But we're so inside, we're free."

There are nine tunes on the album. "We probably didn't do more than 12 or 13 takes, total," says Calderazzo. That's how easy it is for these two partners to meld. But, "Musicians probably wouldn't like it because there's not enough flash. It's simple. It's melody driven. There's not enough slick shit on there for musicians to be wowed by. I love that about Branford. He doesn't make records for musicians. It's a documentation of whatever. ... My wife will listen to that record and love it. She'll put it on and say, 'I love this song. It's beautiful.' I have some friends that are musicians that like 'beautiful' music. They're, like, 'That duo shit with Branford is really nice.'"

Retakes weren't usually necessary, and produced not much more than different music, not better. Calderazzo is comfortable with that approach.

"The one place where my playing has really changed has been my attitude toward stuff. Once again, the difference between Mike and Branford: Mike would spend hours fixing stuff on his records, where Branford leaves all the mistakes on. I still don't know. I can go both ways," says Calderazzo. "I co-produced Two Blocks From the Edge (GRP, 2003) with Mike. I would have done anything for Michael at any time in my life. But I told Mike in jest, 'Don't ever ask me to do anything like this again with you.' Mike was a real studio musician. If he played a bad note, he fixed it. ... One thing I've learned is, if you have to do more than two or three takes, then you ain't getting it."

Recording the new Marsalis quartet record with bassist Eric Revis
Eric Revis
Eric Revis
and new drummer Justin Faulkner was of one those record-in-the- moment projects. "Nobody really had music. We did a couple of new tunes, a tune of mine, a Monk tune we had been playing. I called [Marsalis] up and said, 'Hey man, do you have music?' He said, 'We got a few things. We'll just go in and do it.' I was, like, 'Dude!' Normally we have three days for recording, now we only had two. I'm, like, 'Branford, man ...'"

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