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Branford Marsalis Quartet at Max Fisher Music Center

Steve Bryant By

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Branford Marsalis Quartet
Max Fisher Music Center
Detroit, MI
October 11, 2013

The Branford Marsalis Quartet is arguably the best small unit working in jazz these days, as proven by the performance of the BMQ in Detroit. This concert was the opening event for the superb jazz series presented by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The emcee for the concert just happened to be renowned trumpeter and (Marsalis home-boy) Terence Blanchard, who unbeknownst to the audience was to be a participant in the evening's show.

Marsalis is well known for the longevity of his groups, starting with the trio of "X-Men" which was comprised of the late pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. Joey Calderazzo replaced Kirkland after his passing in 1998; Eric Revis did the same for Hurst, and the last was a very young Justin Faulkner filling the very large shoes of "Tain" (Watts). The BMQ performed music from their latest CD Four MF's Playin' Tunes (Marsalis Music, 2012) which is also possibly Marsalis' best recording in years. They started the night off with "Endymion," an up-tempo burner which featured ripping soprano work from Marsalis along with drum work from Faulkner which was nothing short of phenomenal coming from such a young player. Faulkner displayed a mastery of polyrhythms, laying down different tempos on the hi-hats and the snare. The next tune, "The Mighty Sword," featured an intense conversation between Marsalis and pianist Calderazzo. Then things started to get interesting. Blanchard brought his horn out and joined the group in a rendition of Thelonius Monk's "Teo." and segued into a rousing take on "St. James Infirmary" In which Blanchard reminded the audience that a lot of his music lessons came from the streets of Da Easy.

The second set continued in that same vein with Blanchard and the BMQ joining on what was probably the hippest take on "Dancing Cheek To Cheek," heard on a gig in a long time. The interplay between the cats on stage was injected with the intimate humor that develops when players have been working together for a long time. The group then performed a composition by Calderazzo titled "As Summer Into Autumn Turns," a haunting piece which showed a creative maturity on the part of the band showed an evolution towards story-telling as opposed to the mere performance of tunes.

As Marsalis and Co. closed the evening with another burner, a "Tain" Watts composition titled "Return Of The Jitney Man." It was a classic Marsalis workout which showcased his virtuosity as a reed player, the often-overlooked piano work of Calderazzo, and the precision interplay between Revis and Faulkner. Again Blanchard threw on the lagniappe with some trumpet work which started off smoldering then burst into flames at the end. Throughout the evening, Marsalis made his case for being the premier tenor man of his generation and for the BMQ being the tightest, most cohesive unit in jazz today.

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