Jazz News

March 11, 2019
The Telegraph - UK

BMQ Deliver A Blistering Set at the Barbican

Ivan Hewett

Branford Marsalis Quartet, Barbican, London EC2 ★★★★☆

Jazz lovers really have been blessed lately at London’s Barbican Centre, with two top-class American saxophone-led quartets appearing within a fortnight. Sartorially they were both tip-top, though Josh Redman’s quartet last month was perhaps marginally sharper-suited. That quartet’s musical style was similarly elegant, whereas in last night’s blistering 100-minute set from the Branford Marsalis Quartet there was an enjoyable mismatch between the Saks Fifth Avenue elegance of everyone’s attire, and the music-making.

Jazz lovers really have been blessed lately at London’s Barbican Centre, with two top-class American saxophone-led quartets appearing within a fortnight. Sartorially they were both tip-top, though Josh Redman’s quartet last month was perhaps marginally sharper-suited. That quartet’s musical style was similarly elegant, whereas in last night’s blistering 100-minute set from the Branford Marsalis Quartet there was an enjoyable mismatch between the Saks Fifth Avenue elegance of everyone’s attire, and the music-making.This was at times a display of testosterone-fuelled energy, the like of which I’ve rarely seen on the Barbican or any other stage. Jazz may be one of the last spaces in the Western world where raw masculinity can be displayed without drawing accusations of being “toxic”, so in addition to its many other joys this gig felt pleasingly transgressive. The wild energy appeared with startling abruptness in the opening number, composed by bassist Eric Revis. Marsalis soon shattered the opening melody into a blizzard of wiry little repeating phrases, each one caught and echoed by drummer Justin Faulkner in a hectic call-and-response game. Adding to this swelling tide of energy, like rushing tributaries joining a fast-flowing river, were the ever-denser harmonies of pianist Joey Calderazzo and a thrumming wall-of-bass from Revis himself.

One could only watch and listen in amazement, particularly at the sheer speed of thought and execution, and the stunning force of Faulkner’s drumsticks. It was the kind of display that should have brought cheers and foot-stamping, but in fact the audience was too stunned to respond. Then without warning the quartet eased into Calderazzo’s ingratiatingly smooth, relaxed Latin number Cianna. The contrast was so extreme it was almost comic, and it gave a warning that the evening might be full of abrupt stylistic switches – which indeed it was.

This was the moment for Marsalis to show what a seductively warm tone he makes, and how much enjoyment he gets from a straightforwardly symmetrical, four-square melody, and from shaping his solo riffs so that they soar up to the key-note with almost classical predictability. This wasn’t just a quirk of his style; one noticed a certain four-square quality too in the melody of Calderazzo’s Conversation Among the Ruins, though thankfully this dissolved away as soon as the solo breaks began.

More satisfying overall were those numbers where invigorating surprise was there from the off, as in Andrew Hill’s obstreperously off-kilter Snake Hip Waltz, which prompted everyone, particularly Revis, to some pleasingly virtuoso breaks. Most unexpected of all was the Quartet’s version of Sunny Side of the Street, which turned this most cheerful of numbers into a trudging New Orleans-style funeral march. Virtuosity, wit and relaxed charm all came together. IH

The Branford Marsalis Qt’s new album The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul is out now on Okeh Records

Read Ivan Hewett's full article.