Branford Marsalis At Jorgensen

Publication: The Hartford Courant
Author: Owen McNally
Date: January 31, 2013

Still soaring on the propulsive power and high-octane creativity of one of his best and brightest releases in awhile, saxophonist/composer Branford Marsalis sets down with his hard-swinging but sensitive quartet Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.

An Evening with Branford Marsalis and the Branford Marsalis Quartet,” as the swinging Storrs jazz soiree is called, features the NEA Jazz Master and Grammy Award- winning warrior collaborating with his fine, empathetic pianist Joey Calderazzo, big-toned bassist Eric Revis and his young, sensational drummer, Justin Faulkner.

An evening’s worth of the catalytic, collaborative mix of Marsalis and Calderazzo just by itself would have made the trip to Jorgensen quite rewarding. Add to that already superior blend, Revis, who flawlessly takes care of business on bass, and the fabulous Faulkner, and potentially you’ve got one of the winter’s major jazz events in Connecticut.

Faulkner’s rhythmic narratives are full of the sound and the fury that signify a whole new sense of fire and exciting urgency in the quartet’s collective and individual spirit.

Faulkner first appeared with the quartet in 2007 when he was only 16-years-old, subbing in a gig for longtime drummer Jeff “Tain’ Watts. When Watts left the band in 2009, Faulkner, who was then 18, was invited to step in to fill the high-wattage void. After 2 ½ years of honing his skills on the road with Marsalis’s super band, Faulkner was a key player in the quartet’s widely acclaimed, 2012 release, “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” (Marsalis Music), an album heralded in a rave review in the New York Times as “a knockout.”

Part of the power of that knockout punch — along with such heavyweight qualities as the quartet’s tightly-knit cohesiveness, Marsalis’s and Calderazzo’s surging creativity and synergy and Revis’s steely-spined support —i s Faulkner’s explosiveness, energy and versatility.

Reaching for an historical comparison, some critics have compared Faulkner’s highly-charged effect on the quartet with the dramatic impact that the legendary drummer Tony Williams had when, at only 17, he joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963, perhaps the ultimate uber band of all uber bands.

Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” is the ideal intro to the stormin’ Storrs session. It exudes an almost live session feel, rather than the antiseptically safe studio sound. Although the pieces are challenging—including originals by Marsalis, Calderazzo and Revis, plus covers, including a Thelonious Monk tune and “My Ideal,” a vintage ballad—they have a natural flow and vitality as if played in the moment rather than done over and over to meet studio production values.

In fact, if the kick-off tune at Storrs is as alive and vigorous as the album opener, Calderazzo’s “The Mighty Sword,” Marsalis and his teammates might well play a full night of Super Bowl quality at Jorgensen.

Once Marsalis has loosed the fateful lightning of this terrible swift sword, the take-no-prisoners album is off and running. Without letup, it’s charged with a kinetic energy that’s channeled in a variety of expressive areas, including even the impressionistic reflections of Calderazzo’s leafy, poetic portrait, “As Summer into Autumn Slips.” Variety, in fact, abounds, including the brilliant corners the quartet discovers with its exploration of Monk’s “Teo.”

What also lends the CD a “live” quality is that you get the feeling that the four musicians are celebrating not just the music and crackling interplay, but also what seems like the sheer, pure unadulterated joy in playing together.

Tickets: $39, $35, $32. Information: box office, 860-486-4226 and Jorgensen is at 2132 Hillside Road, UConn campus, Storrs.