Branford Marsalis @ Proctors, 2/3/12

Publication: Times Union Arts Talk Blog
Author: Michael Eck
Date: February 4, 2012

There was some big listening going on at Proctors Friday night, onstage and off.

Naturally, the audience, which had paid its money, had its ears on, but saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo had their giant ears on.

In the opening number of the duo’s opening set, Marsalis pushed his soprano against Calderazzo’s clouds of sound. The shape of the melody recalled Jewish themes. The harmony, spare and open, came from the American south. And the result sounded like heaven.

Marsalis and his longtime cohort released a duo album last year, and they culled tunes like the above, “La Valse Kendall,” and “The Bard Lachrymose” from that disc.

On the second number (“One Way”) Marsalis unleashed his robust tenor tone, and he continued to bounce back and forth between the two horns throughout the evening.

The gentlemen broke after 40 minutes and then brought out the full Marsalis Quartet for a 70-minute set that was often stunning, sometimes mesmerizing and always real.

Instantly the rhythm section was cracking, with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jason Faulker working overtime behind Calderazzo’s now pumping piano. But this is a band that understands dynamics and together they rode the swells, heartbeats and car crashes that make up a great night of jazz. Marsalis’ sweet soprano release, for example, at the end of Revis’ “Maestra” was a breath of surrender. Wow.

The hottest tune of the night was a ripping take of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo,” which is bound for the band’s upcoming record. Too bad they didn’t catch it to tape at Proctors.

Marsalis left all kinds of room for his band to play. In fact, parts of the second set seemed more like it was Calderazzo’s show than his own. But Marsalis owned “Teo.” His tenor was thunder. He spoke in full sentences, at first just shouting over the clatter of Revis and Faulker. When Calderazzo finally snuck in behind, the tune exploded, with Faulker chattering away on his drum kit.

Faulker, in fact, is perhaps the best young touring drummer seen in these parts since Lee Pearson hit the Berkshires a few years back with both Hamiett Bluiett and the World Saxophone Quartet.

When “Teo” finally closed, even Marsalis seemed thrilled.

“I was getting carried away on that one,” he beamed.

He’d forgotten to lock down the top end of his horn and the mouthpiece was swinging around between passages, adding to the humor and wonderful chaos of the tune.

The group followed with Calderazzo’s “As Summer Into Autumn Slips,” veering as dynamically wide from “Teo” as possible. It was tense tone poem anchored by Revis’ hypnotic half-note ostinato. That steady rhythm allowed Faulkner to dance around his kit with mallets, commenting on the action. Calderazzo’s cinematic arrangement left plenty of room for Marsalis’ soprano to join in as things lifted towards entropy before settling back down.

The band closed the show with an encore of Marsalis’ Sidney Bechet tribute “Treat It Gentle.” It didn’t matter that Revis had broken a string on the prior number. He still had three to work with, and that was more than enough for him.

Kudos, by the way, to Proctors for presenting jazz in the big room. It’s a rare treat and the venue always shines when it does so.

When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Proctors, 432 State Street, Schenectady
Length: Marsalis/Calderazzo duo, 40 minutes; Branford Marsalis Quartet, 70 minutes
Highlights: “Teo” and “As Summer Into Autumn Slips” were simply dazzling.
The crowd: A very healthy throng by jazz standards. It’s nice — and rare — to experience the music in a large venue outside of a festival.