TO Jazz Review: Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo, June 29, Koerner Hall

Toronto – As this year’s festival heads into its final weekend, it’s high time we talk about artistic director Josh Grossman. Josh was brought onboard last year and has been doing some great work for the festival. He’s been a force of nature when it comes to promoting jazz in the city, and his own blog offers up great insights into this world. He’s demonstrated an ability to be both progressive and expansive by including bands like the Roots and Aretha Franklin in the line-up.

I had the pleasure of meeting Josh last year and had but one request: “please please please bring back Branford!” In 2009 the festival featured the Branford Marsalis Quartet playing the main square at Nathan Phillips. While a great show in its own right, I was hoping beyond hope that we could get to see Branford in a more intimate venue. I can only assume that my conversation with Josh left such an indelible impression on him that he immediately pick up the phone and booked Branford to play a duet at Koerner Hall with Joey Calderazzo. So thanks Josh, it was totally worth it!

“Piano is hard…” – Toronto-based jazz pianist Matt Newton commenting on Joey Calderazzo’s playing

This was my most anticipated show of the festival; superlatives can’t begin to express how special it was. With talent and work, some musicians get to the point where they can describe the beauty, complexity, and perplexity of this world using only the sounds that emanate from their instrument. Others can do so while levitating on a magical flying carpet and looking out over the earth. That’s what Branford & Joey sounded like for the world premiere of their latest album Songs of Mirth & Melancholy.

“[We’d always ask our dad to play with us, and I’d ask him what key he was playing in] he’d say, son, there are no keys, only sounds.” – Branford Marsalis quoting his father Ellis Marsalis

As much as I love the energy of the quartet, it was positively sublime to hear what these artists could accomplish as a duo in the intimate and fabulous sounding Koerner Hall. That these two are good friends in addition to fellow jedi masters is evident. As Joey would solo, Branford would silently groove out and tap his foot. He’d open his eyes and look over as if to enquire “you done?” With Joey’s own eyes closed and lost in his world, Branford would chuckle to himself and let the man come back down to earth on his own time. With songs like Cheek to Cheek, these two were able to skirt the line between the familiar and the foreign with effortless skill.

There are many genres of music that have a special and indescribably sublime quality. To be able to experience such masterful music that transcends such boundaries in a live setting is both a rarity and a treat.

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival