Branford Marsalis
Chicago Symphony Center, April 17, 2009

Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis

Story by James Walker, Jr.
Photos by John Broughton

Branford Marsalis displayed a myriad of skills before a packed Symphony Center crowd during his annual visit to this fabled hall. Using the tenor, alto and soprano sax with equal skill, the eldest Marsalis brother was a sight to behold. Throughout this 90-plus minute set, he never rushed things and shared the spotlight with his exceptional sidemen.

That was particularly true with keyboardist Joey Calderazzo, who has been gigging and recording with Branford for over a decade and nearly stole the show from the cool and laid back Marsalis. Calderazzo had the audience jumping for joy all night long, especially "The Blossom of Parting," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "Last Goodbye." The casual jazz fan may not have known this young man before this night, but rest assured, he left an everlasting impression on all assembled. His soft and tempered touch was so telling and he was able to convey his message without banging away on the 88s.

Young drummer Justin Faulkner, subbing for Branford's regular timekeeper, Jeff "Tain" Watts held his own despite being challenged on several occasions by Master Marsalis. He was cool and calm and gave nonverbal "comebacks" to Branford in a timely fashion.

Bassist Eric Revis was complementary, but his long introductory solo on the final scheduled number almost lost the crowd. It was a very mellow solo, following several consecutive ballads that the band had previously played. Once the remaining ensemble returned to the stage, an upbeat tempo kicked in to save this number.

During the encore of "Honeysuckle Rose," all band members had an opportunity for one last solid solo. Branford used the soprano to effectively leave his message, while Calderazzo used a "ragtime" tinge for his final impressions.

Overall, this was an excellent concert. This listener would have preferred the ballads to have been spread out throughout the set instead of on three consecutive numbers. Nevertheless, Mr Marsalis used this evening to let the Chicago audience know that he is just as proficient with any of the reed instruments. He takes his time, breathes and produces beautiful sounds with all three. He continues to develop as a leader and musician.

Keyboardist Brad Mehldau next ascends the Armour Stage at Orchestra Hall on Friday, May 1. For detailed information about future Symphony Center jazz events, refer to their Web site at www.cso.org/jazz.

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