Review: Branford Marsalis Quartet delivers knockout punch

Publication: San Jose Mercury News
Author: Richard Scheinin
Date: April 27, 2014

SANTA CRUZ — As the Branford Marsalis Quartet opened its late show Monday at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, drummer Justin Faulkner jabbed like a boxer. Hook. Uppercut. Jab, jab, jab. The band’s music was raw and rumbling, almost violent — but played with such scarifying control as to convey a sense of elegance, too. It was Muhammad Ali music: float, sting, deliver the knockout punch.

Composed by Joey Calderazzo, the group’s pianist, the tune was titled “The Mighty Sword,” which tells you all you have to know.

For the next 90 minutes — it was the second of two sold-out shows, preceding a two-night run in San Francisco — saxophonist Marsalis and his group engaged a strategy of virtuosity and cockiness, clarity and clout. It covered a lot of territory — bebop and 1970s Keith Jarrett rubato, as well as a tune associated with Louis Armstrong — but it kept coming back to the power-punch and to its own brand of blowtorch Coltrane intensity.

Five years ago, Marsalis hired Faulkner — 18 at the time — out of a high-school band program in Philadelphia. There aren’t a lot of drummers like him on the current scene; he plays with the unrestricted heat of an Elvin Jones and has a massive bottom-heavy sound that’s reminiscent of Michael Carvin. But like those older masters, he can ease up and swing with a feathery bounce, as he did on “Steepian Faith,” penned by the late Kenny Kirkland, who held the piano chair in the group prior to Calderazzo.

Here, on soprano saxophone, Marsalis played cat-and-mouse, dodging through the rhythm flow. It was a relaxed and cagey solo, with bluesy asides that elicited shouts from the audience, and he alluded here and there to Wayne Shorter. Over the course of the night (I’d also attended the earlier show) he referenced the blues and swing of Paul Gonsalves, the aerated gruffness of Illinois Jacquet, the open roll of Sonny Rollins.

To read the rest of Richard Scheinin’s review, please visit the San Jose Mercury News website.