For more than 30 years, saxophonist Branford Marsalis has brought his innovative, melodious jazz stylings to the studio and stage. Marsalis comes from an extraordinarily talented musical family. The eldest son of 84-year-old renowned New Orleans jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, Branford’s siblings include trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason Marsalis.
An accomplished saxophonist, Branford Marsalis has worked with a number of diverse musicians, including Sting, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and The Grateful Dead, and has performed classical pieces with the New York Philharmonic and North Carolina Symphony. In 2006, Berklee College of Music presented Marsalis with an Honorary Doctorate of Music.
Thursday night, the Branford Marsalis Quartet (Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; and Justin Faulkner, drums) treated its Pabst Theater audience to a versatile performance which included a number of songs from the group’s latest album, the critically-acclaimed "The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul," released in March.
"We’re happy to be back in Milwaukee, especially since the weather is treating us so well," Marsalis, smartly dressed in a tan suit coat, white button-down shirt, and dark brown trousers, quipped to the audience, referring to the wintry April weather. Although the majority of concert attendees seemed to be over 35, this reviewer noticed a handful of people in their late teens and early 20s. (It’s nice to see young people enjoying jazz music.)
Although the saxophonist confessed to the audience that he was recovering from a flu bug that had also struck Faulkner and the quartet’s tour manager, illness didn’t slow the band down one bit. Faulkner in particular displayed almost superhuman drumming chops on frenetic songs like "Dance of the Evil Toys."
Even though he was under the weather – "I’m at ground zero," he informed the audience several times – Marsalis poured soul and passion into every note, seamlessly switching between tenor and soprano sax. His dulcet tones were especially highlighted in the gorgeous "Cianna" and the quietly evocative "Conversations Among the Ruins."
The crowd-pleasing Calderazzo gave a new meaning to the term "tickle the ivories," with fingers that effortlessly glided over the piano keys. From the boogie-woogie blues gem "The Windup" (written by pianist Keith Jarrett) to the slinky "Snake Hip Waltz," the pianist displayed remarkable improvisational and technical skills.
Revis, who wrote a number of the quartet’s songs, provided solid double bass lines that especially complimented Calderazzo’s piano playing and Faulkner’s drumming. His plucking helped enhance the moody, atmospheric "Life Filtering from the Water Flowers."
Although the concert focused on the quartet’s new material, Marsalis made sure to include a classic: the cheerful "On the Sunny Side of the Street."
"But," he warned the audience after the song was over, "we’re not gonna play any more like that."
Given the band’s riveting repertoire, the audience didn’t seem to mind at all.