The Branford Marsalis Trio
Knitting Factory (New York City)
Playing to three sold-out crowds at New York's Knitting Factory, Branford Marsalis's trio, featuring longtime cohorts Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums and Reginald Veal on bass, gave ample evidence backing the claim that they are one of the most interesting and challenging trios currently performing. Playing out of a book of tunes drawn mostly from their new record, The Dark Keys (Columbia), Marsalis and crew bobbed and weaved around a variety of tonal themes that required the listener to be an active participant in the interactive process that occurs between the best jazz music and an audience.
Mixing a fine reading of Monk's Friday the Thirteenth in with a whole host of original numbers, the trio was able to give the required space to Watts, who has been hailed as the "Elvin Jones of the Nineties" - a reference to Coltrane's long-time, polyrhymic drummer, and to the leader, who spent a considerable amount of time playing on his underused soprano, which this listener found quite pleasing. Bearing in mind the flipside of his musical personality, which has found him touring with Sting, appearing with the Grateful Dead, fronting the Tonight Show band, and leading his hip-hop/R&B laced Buckshot LeFonque, Branford is not willing to cut corners as far as making this trio more "accessible." "Jazz is a real-time music conceived in the present tense," he says, "I promise you, you buy our record, and you hear us the next day, you ain't gonna hear the record. We don't do shit to get house. We don't play riffs that people can identify with. That's not our job. Our job is to push. ... Music is too abstract for most people. Intellectually speaking, it's absolutely conditioning, because it is impossible to say that people lack the capacity to fathom instrumental music. But it is easy to say that people - because of the way they are brought up - will not gain the capacity to understand or sympathize with instrumental music. That's fine with me." Basically, Marsalis is saying that "if there is some shit you don't understand, that you can't understand, then you should sit down and listen." Amen.