Branford Marsalis – In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral [TrackList follows] – Sony/Okeh, 64:57 – [10/28/14] *****:
(Branford Marsalis – soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones)
Playing a solo recital concert in a sacred and iconic cathedral is quite an undertaking. Such is the task that the adventurous saxophonist Branford Marsalis took on when he played in a solo setting at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on Oct. 5, 2012. This famous cathedral was the setting for Duke Ellington’s famous Sacred Concerts in the 1960s, and since 1983 it has been used for jazz, baroque, and classical concerts. Its acoustics are marvelous and its setting is inspiring to both musicians and audiences. Its beauty is comparable to cathedrals in Europe. [And it has an outdoor labrinyth…Ed.]
For his repertoire Branford included composed and improvised material ranging from Bach, compositions by Steve Lacy and Ryo Noda, and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” Marsalis titled his improvisations simply “Improvisations 1-4.” They were composed “on the spot” based on the vibe that was present in the cathedral at the time. He notes that his goal was to not to play “too many notes” but to play material with “great melodies, not being ‘too notey’ and utilizing the feeling in the room.” Branford indicates that the cathedral has a seven-second delay.
Besides his “improvisations,” Marsalis includes two of his own compositions, “The Moment I Recall Your Face” and “Blues for One.” An interesting choice is the inclusion of the closing theme from Carol Burnett’s TV show, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together,” as a witty closer for the concert.
Immediately felt in listening to this CD is the reverberation as the saxophone notes are heard, “bounce” off the walls and then decay. One gets the feeling that they have been transported back in time before electronics, speakers, and modern technology enter into the picture. It is a purity of sound and a pleasure to experience. “Stardust” is so well known that you feel that you have already heard it in all interpretations, whether in standard form or improvised. Here you will marvel as its theme floats and soars, with a bluesy vent.
The Improvisations are a bit over six minutes long each, except for No. 2 which clocks in at 4:47. Each is different, of course, but they share an expression of freedom, exploring the sound of the cathedral, and have the most edginess of the program. On Improvisation No. 3, Branford lets the ambulance siren outside influence his sonic direction.
The baroque sonata bridges jazz with classical as Marsalis both explores the source material and adding flourishes of his own. “The Moment I Recall Your Face” is tender and a bit melancholy. “Mai, Op.7” is the most challenging for Branford as its multiphonics and fingerings are not typical for saxophones but capture the feeling of the shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute).
“Blues for One” is a welcome visit to bluesy jazz and the cathedral’s acoustics let the blues changes surround and enter the listener’s brain, letting the vibe linger. The TV closing theme from Carol Burnett, at a brief 2:33, would challenge a fan of the show to recognize its inclusion until the last minute when the familiar refrain might bring out a knowing smile (with most people thinking, “What was that? It rings a bell…”) Such is improvisation.
In My Solitude is a real treat, both for its excellent cathedral sound, as well as the saxophone mastery of Branford Marsalis.
TrackList: Who Needs It, Stardust, Improvisation No. 1, Sonata in A minor for Oboe, Wq.132: I Poco adagio, The Moment I Recall Your Face, Improvisation No. 2, Mai, Op.7, Improvisation No. 3, Improvisation No. 4, Blues For One, I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together