Cecelia D. Johnson
The power of a reputation can do wonders in a town where there is no jazz-format radio. That power was in full effect Friday night when nearly 500 souls converged to hear the Branford Marsalis Quartet at Oakley's 20th Century.
Marsalis has assembled a mighty ensemble of swinging young players, and they were more than ready to take care of business. His two-hour set (no breaks) was a panorama of the different jazz variations of groove and swing with some ballads tossed in.
Marsalis worked the room with the effectiveness of an evangelist with his hip humor in banter and in song. The evening opened with the righteous indignation of "Brother Trying to Catch a Cab on the East Side Blues," immediately followed by the more restrained "Reika's Lullaby" written by drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.
The third song was a study in serious swing, with pianist Joey Calderazzo swinging high and bassist Eric Revis swinging low as Marsalis blew mellow notes on his baritone sax. Following a boisterous ovation, Marsalis referenced the tune as a "classic case of stupid" because he had songs mixed up in his head, so Thelonius Monk's "Rhythm-a-ing" quickly became "Well You Needn't."
Calderazzo's ballad "Lara" changed the pace with smooth and thoughtful consideration. The rhythm provided by bass and drums created an almost hypnotic groove while Marsalis and Calderazzo alternately provided the melodic tease of emotions.
Marsalis switched to baritone for the hard drive of straight ahead sensibilities of "Mr. J.J. (J.J. Was His Name)," a frenetic bop homage to a dearly departed pet chow.
Marsalis gave a nod to his fellow Crescent City resident Harry Connick with a satisfying cover of the balled, "Let Me Be Loved Tonight," delivered with the soft caress of a considerate lover.
"16th Street Baptist Church" was a high-spirited, full-throttled jam introduced by a bluesy, bass solo that launched a revival-like zeal of give and take. The bass was relentless, Calderazzo had some "Monk moments," and Watts swept up in a rapture of rhythm. In fact, the spirit moved Marsalis to throw in an impromptu refrain of "P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)"
The evening concluded with an encore of "Blutain" featuring a honky-tonk duet with saxophonist Chad Eby as a special treat.
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