Festival Review: Red Sea Jazz Festival August 18-21

Publication: The Jerusalem Post
Author: Barry Davis
Date: August 25, 2013

Branford Marsalis may have noted it was devilishly hot at the start of his quartet’s first gig at last week’s Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, but he did absolutely nothing to moderate the furnace-like conditions. He and his cohorts – pianist Joey Calderazzo, bass player Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner – poured out tons of white-hot energy and blistering, silky skills right from the word go.

In a pre-festival interview, 52-year-old saxophonist Marsalis had talked about intensity as his byword, and that was the key to the group’s success. The foursome played material from its latest album, Four MFs Playin’ Tunes, as well as the odd standard, and there was ne’er a dull moment in the entire 80+ minute set.

A prime example was Revis’s seemingly never ending ostinato – repetitive phrase – on one of the numbers. The order and volume of the bass notes never changed, but the intensity of the sound appeared to ebb and flow as the rest the band members did their thing.

Marsalis is such a master musician that he can keep his audience riveted with even the softest of sonic outputs. His velvety lyrical work on soprano sax – his favored instrument – was a wonder to behold, and even his somewhat more visceral playing on tenor saxophone owed more to deftness and understated intent than to raw power.

That “softly, softly” approach was underscored when festival joint artistic director and saxophonist Eli Degibri joined the fray for the encore. While 35-year-old Degibri pumped out the energy calories – to impressive effect – Marsalis got his message across, in no uncertain terms, in a far more lyrical manner.

Calderazzo produced an abundance of dazzling riffs, while 22-year-old Faulkner maintained the highest level of requisite intensity throughout, even on brushes and when tickling the sides of his cymbals with the sides of his drumsticks.

Faulkner is definitely one to watch.

Elsewhere on the festival roster, drummer Jeff Ballard’s trio, with Miguel Zenón on sax and Kevin Hays on piano, produced an energized display, with Zenón complementing the band leader’s no-nonsense percussive attack. One the extramural, non-jazz side of the program, Esther Rada had her jam-packed audience grooving with gay abandon with her charismatic performance, while the young, progressive, rock-oriented Tatran trio also came in for a well-earned enthusiastic response.