Portland Festival, Take Five: Marsalis-Calderazzo Duo, Brubeckians

Publication: Rifftides
Author: Doug Ramsey
Date: February 29, 2012


Parts of Brandford Marsalis’s and Joey Calderazzo’s Sunday concert of saxophone-piano duets suggested the atmosphere of a 19th century recital somewhere in middle Europe. The beauty of Calderazzo’s “La Valse Kendall,” Marsalis’s “The Bard Lachrymose” and the short “Die Trauernde” of Brahms encouraged quiet reflection. These are jazz musicians, however—two of the most adventuresome—and a complete afternoon of stately salon music wasn’t in the cards. The impression they left the capacity crowd in Portland’s Newmark Theater was of good friends enjoying the rewards and risks of spontaneous creation.

Some of the music was from their 2011 album Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy. Calderazzo’s “Bri’s Dance” was, among other things, a reminder of the richness of Marsalis’s soprano sax tone, which is wide and nearly without vibrato. It was also an occasion for Calderazzo to unleash the Bach in his left hand and lead into a round of give-and-take exchanges with Marsalis that gained in both rhythm and precision as the action unfolded. Their performance of “Eternal” was at least as long as the 18-minute one on the 2003 Marsalis quartet album of that name and gave, if anything, an even more intimate tug on the emotions. Calderazzo’s loping 16-bar composition “One Way” has the character of something Sonny Rollins might have thought of in his “Way Out West” days. Marsalis’s tenor playing on it had that playful spirit.

In a decidedly non-middle-European interpretation of Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” Marsalis took a tenor saxophone side trip through a quote from Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm.” Whether it was a convolution in the quote or something else that initiated a skipped beat, they collided in an oops moment that caused them to laugh as they suspended motion for a split second to put the time back in place. A tag ending led Marsalis into a repeated phrase that worked into a bit of “Jumping With Symphony Sid.” When the bout ended, both men seemed amused. Soloing in an earlier, unannounced, piece, Calderazzo’s left hand toyed with variations on stride patterns while his right fooled around with boldly reharmonized suggestions of “Cheek to Cheek,” bringing a wry smile from Marsalis.

Introducing his composition “Hope” as their encore, Calderazzo said that since the death of tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker in 2007, “Branford is the only one I want to hear do this.” On soprano sax, Marsalis alternately soared and subsided into quietness that had the audience holding its breath until the last long note died away.

To read Mr. Ramsey’s review of the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet, please visit his site.