TO Jazz Review: Branford Marsalis, Nathan Phillips, July 3

Branford Marsalis

Toronto – The main tent at Nathan Phillips square was sold out last Friday night for one of the most anticipated shows of the Toronto jazz festival. Dave Holland opened (coverage here), followed by the Branford Marsalis Quartet who stole the festival on every conceivable metric. This band has the chops; and they have the rythm. But if there’s one word that comes to mind when trying to describe what they can do so effortlessly in a live setting, it’s musicality.

Branford Marsalis is the eldest of 6 sons of jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis. Three of his siblings are accomplished musicians in their own right: Wynton (trumpet) , Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drums), making  this one musical family. From 1992-1995, Branford was the leader of The Tonight Show house band. Although commercially successful, Branford felt the need to explore his own music and stepped out of the limelight. This search for musical truth led him to form his own label, Marsalis Music, which gave him and the artists he nurtures the freedom  to pursue their craft without the restrictions imposed by mainstream record labels.

Filling in the huge shoes left by [Jeff “Tain” Watts] was sprightly teenaged Justin Faulkner … It took only the opening song for the crowd to be convinced: the kid is alllriiiiiight.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet has been playing together for almost 10 years now, with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and until very recently, the drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.  The recent departure of Watts has left the jazz community disconcerted. Jeff is an inspired drummer and has helped pioneer the driving rock beats in modern jazz that was mentioned in a previous article.  Jeff has left the band on amicable terms in order to pursue his own projects.

Filling in the huge shoes left by Watts is sprightly teenaged Justin Faulkner. This surprising lineup change has had more than a few jazz fanatics skittish. However, it took only the opening song for the crowd to be convinced: the kid is alllriiiiiight. The band played a fantastic and engaging set of jazz that simply had to be heard to be believed. It ranged from seat-of-your pants blistering solos to simmering, then suspense-building ballads that were frankly cathartic.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes Marsalis’ live act so engaging. Branford has put together a band of supremely talented musicians; but many jazz bands have that. The members of the band are all on the same wavelength and demonstrate a near-psychic ability to read each others mind; but many jazz bands have that. Theirs is  an undefinable sense of musicality and in-control spontaneity that shines brightest in a live setting. I can’t think of a better example of jazz that so deftly skirts the boundaries between what is familar and what is exploratory with more  intelligence, humanity, and passion.

Ours is a world of hip little three minute ditties and of internet technologies that favour mass-appeal over musical-appeal. It’s refreshing when musicians resist the temptations to compromise for the spotlight in the pursuit of something more genuine.

If there’s one thing about this show that prevents me from giving it a full 5 star rating, it’s the venue and the crowd. Although Nathan Phillips Square is an adequate venue for loud and lively bands, it is too brute a force for the quiet and introspective stuff. This was especially evident during Eric Revis’ bass solo, where you could hear the cash registers dutifully printing receipts as people bought their wine, and the very noticeable opening of beer cans, splsshhh, splsssshhh. The crowd chatter had me wishing for a more intimate or secluded venue.

As Blues Traveler frontman John Popper once said, “this MTV is not for free”. Ours is a world of hip little three minute ditties, of demographically-driven recording & production, and of internet technologies that favour mass-appeal over musical-appeal. It’s refreshing and inspiring when musicians resist the temptations to compromise for the spotlight in the pursuit of something more genuine.

Be Sociable, Share!

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival

One Response to TO Jazz Review: Branford Marsalis, Nathan Phillips, July 3

  1. MarsalisMusic

    Hi –

    I saw your great review of Branford’s set and was happy to see you enjoyed Justin!

    Here is a little clip reel we recently finished if you are interested.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PJjkST9RyE

    – Garrett

Add a Comment

OpenID

Anonymous