It is rare that I take a vacation, especially a vacation that lasts longer than just a long weekend. For me to have a full week off is virtually unheard of. That being said, I decided that since I was going to take a week of, but was not going to leave town, I needed to make the most of it and fill my days to the brim with local entertainment.
What I began to realize is that sometimes the best form of entertainment during a much needed break can be going to bed early and waking up late. Hosting a midnight to 4 AM radio program combined with a variety of other work responsibilities doesn’t always allow for a normal sleep schedule, so I decided to take more time to find out what that was all about and less time seeking out things to do in the community.
One plan that I wasn’t about to give up in exchange for an early bedtime was emceeing opening night for Branford Marsalis at Jazz Alley in Seattle last Thursday. The only other time that I have seen him live was the last time he performed at the Alley, with his father Ellis playing piano as part of his quartet. While it was nice to see dad join the group, it was rumored that Branford had to hold his playing back a little bit with Ellis, and I definitely wanted to see Branford cut loose with his regular group.
His regular group has not changed over the last ten years, at least on his album recordings. Branford heads up the gang on saxes, while Joey Calderazzo plays piano, Eric Revis is on bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. Tain was not present for the concert, but in his place was a baby-faced eighteen year old by the name of Justin Faulkner. In fact it was his eighteenth birthday that night.
If it appeared that Marsalis was picking on Faulkner that night (be it yelling direction in his ear, or making fun of how Faulkner couldn’t play the next song two years ago and we would “see if he could get it right this time”), I didn’t translate it as so. In fact to me it appeared that Branford just wanted to make sure that, in a roundabout way, he was recognized and noticed. It certainly wasn’t needed. While Faulkner wasn’t the best musician in the band, he was certainly a highlight, offering colorful solos and entertaining playing overall.
Marsalis, Revis, and Calderazzo, as you might expect after ten years together, were in perfect sync, and the quartet as a whole kept the room energized for the entire show. Marsalis was articulate and artistic with his solos, but with the exception of directing traffic on stage, he didn’t overshadow any of his quartet members. One could be totally entertained simply watching Joey Calderazzo’s body language on stage, if it weren’t for his overwhelming playing ability. It is also apparent that Calderazzo has taken an active interest in studying classical music, as some of his beautiful ballad writing (take The Blossom of Parting for example) might suggest.
Even without “Tain” Watts, the quartet was evidence of what spending such a considerable amount of time together could produce. The ability to have such a clear understanding of where each musician is headed and how to best support them through sometimes complicated songs, while producing such a wonderful, “together” sound is reason why this quartet might be the best around.