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Branford Marsalis / Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy

Mark F. Turner By

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The Swedish proverb "Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow," is one that perfectly exemplifies Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, from saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo. Their bond has solidified over time, since Calderazzo took over the piano chair from the late Kenny Kirkland in Marsalis' ensemble in 1998. While Kirkland's talent can never be replaced, Calderazzo has proven his own deep abilities as a vital member of the band—and in his own recordings. Marsalis' voice is commanding in any aspect, whether playing or speaking frankly about the music environment, and continues to resonate as a leader. Together, their rapport illuminates this recording.

The mirth begins with Calderazzo's "One Way," a rousing, bluesy piece that strolls down the boulevard like a conversation between two old souls. It sounds like it could have been written in the 1920s, and swings eternally; the piano's ragtag stride provides the perfect foil for the tenor's vociferous backtalk. The melancholy comes in Marsalis' heartfelt "The Bard of Lachrymose," captivating like an opera diva working a classical aria, its sentiment a prelude to Calderazzos' alluring "La Valse Lendall," a methodical song in perfect tandem with the soprano saxophone's lyricism. Unlike typical instrument duos, the two masters don't just play off of chord changes, but listen and engage one another.

There's also an appreciation for other works in the always compelling version of Johannes Brahms's "Die Trauernde" and a surprising rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Face in the Barroom Floor" from Weather Report's Sportin' Life (Columbia, 1984), as Marsalis' phrasing mimics Shorter's iconic horn to a science. Yet, throughout these nine pieces, both players show their own merit as composers, Marsalis' "Endymion" pointing towards the heavens, and soaring in a flight of harmony and tension, while Calderazzo's "Hope" is suffused with blissful elegance.

The release benefits not only from its musicians but also from its environment. Recorded at the Hayti Center in Durham, North Carolina, the acoustics are excellent; the tenor saxophone's warmth is almost tangible on "Precious" and the piano's skittering keys like diamond studded tap shoes on "Bri's Dance." In the end, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy is exceptional when savored; documenting the communication between two musicians and their ability to express emotion through their music.

Track Listing: One Way; The Bard Larchrymose; La Valse Kendall; Face On the Barroom Floor; Endymion; Die Trauernde; Hope; Precious; Bri's Dance.

Personnel: Branford Marsalis: saxophones; Joey Calderazzo: piano.

Title: Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Marsalis Music


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