Author: Adam Goldstein

Branford Marsalis brings improvisational mastery, technical know-how to Macky performance

There’s no denying Branford Marsalis’s status as jazz royalty.

Along with other family members justifiably deemed the “first family of jazz,” Branford Marsalis has spent his career securing the legacy of one of America’s signature art forms, even as he’s worked to innovate, create and bring the genre into the future.

“The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul,” the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s album released in 2019, perfectly encapsulates that delicate balance between musical tradition and innovation. On the album, Marsalis joins pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner to create a broad musical canvas, one that incorporates original compositions and covers from jazz masters with equal amounts of mastery.

As on previous releases from the quartet, the musicianship on this release is unassailable, and that level of sheer skill and creativity will be on display when Marsalis and his colleagues bring the sounds and scope of the album to the CU Boulder campus for a live performance on the Artist Series at Macky Auditorium on Feb. 11.

Jazz has always been about the live setting. The balance between technical expertise and improvisational chops has always been at the core of the genre’s identity. The Branford Marsalis Quartet’s performance at Macky is sure to spotlight that dynamic. Marsalis, whose credits range from a stint as a bandleader on national television to a Grammy Award winning recording artist and a Tony Award-nominated stage collaborator, has said that the music on this record in particular pushed the quartet to seek new levels of collaboration and musical efficiency.

Specifically, Marsalis said that working with guest vocalist Kurt Elling made the quartet function in new ways.

“Working with Kurt for a year and a half took me back to what I learned in hindsight from my gig with Sting,” Marsalis told his label. “Working with a singer changes you in ways you don’t realize. When I started playing jazz after my background in R&B, all the possibilities I discovered led me to play solos that went on and on. Sting said, `No, you’ve got 45 seconds,’ which did more than just cause me to edit. It taught me to focus on the melodies, to get to the point.”

That streamlined set of skills is obvious on the album, which brings a new degree of concision to standards like Andrew Hill’s “Snake Hips Waltz” and Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup.” After three years of playing this material live, the quartet’s performance at Macky is likely to show a rare kind of mastery, one that fuses precision and no-limits improv.

“I still like the idea of having everyone bring in whatever they want to bring in when it’s time to record and see what we can develop,” Marsalis has said, “but we couldn’t just take the `jam session’ approach to recording anymore. We had to go out and work the music.”

The Branford Marsalis Quartet performs at Macky Auditorium on the Artist Series Feb. 11.