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Branford Marsalis / Terence Blanchard Quintet: Jazz at Lincoln Center, October 1, 2010

Keith Henry Brown By

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Branford Marsalis Quartet
Terence Blanchard Quintet
Jazz at Lincoln Center
October 1, 2010

Early in their set, after striding on stage in stylish suits, The Branford Marsalis Quartet—pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner—began peeling off their shirt jackets. The stage lights must have been especially too much for Faulkner, who, within only a few moments of the first tune, was drenched in sweat. Marsalis smiled and seemed to playfully admonish him for removing his garment, but soon his jacket also disappeared, as well as the rest of the bands' in no time. They had come to work, and to swing.

The saxophonist announced that the first two compositions were untitled and unfinished: first, a lengthy workout written by Calderazzo; and then, a John Coltrane-inspired spiritual penned by Marsalis, which gave all the members of the quartet a moment to showcase an astonishing telepathy, aided only by half-nods and slight gestures.

A welcome highlight was a beautiful composition called "Hope," featured on Braggtown (Marsalis Music, 2006), its classical structure exactly the type of thing that Calderazzo and Marsalis do best. At its conclusion, after reaching almost unbearable heights, Marsalis mentioned that the great opera singer Jessye Norman was in the house, and that she had inspired his playing on tunes of this nature.

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard's quintet kept their suits on throughout their set, but were no less electrifying. The contrast in styles of the two leaders' bands was obvious from the start: the members were not the longtime associates of Marsalis' band, but fresher faces, with a fierce energy that only the young possess: tenor saxophonist Brice Winston, Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan, and 18 year-old Julliard student, bassist Joshua Crumbly.

Blanchard's secret weapon was dynamic drummer Kendrick Scott, who nudged the soloists forward like a schoolyard bully. The quintet indulged itself on just a handful of long, challenging tunes, more tightly played than some of the undeveloped compositions Marsalis' band had performed earlier in the evening.

As the end of the night drew near, Blanchard—who frowned and kept his head down for the most of the set—suddenly became talkative, announcing that his longtime friend and collaborator, director Spike Lee, was in the auditorium. Marsalis rejoined the stage and, together, they played a tribute to him in the form of the theme song from Lee's 1990 film, Mo' Better Blues.

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