Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo – Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy – Marsalis Music MARS 0015, 55:07 ****½:
(Branford Marsalis – saxophone; Joey Calderazzo – piano)
When Kenny Kirkland passed away in 1998, the future of The Branford Marsalis Quartet was in question. However, pianist Joey Calderazzo proved to be an ideal replacement. Marsalis (under his own label) had been performing and introducing new artists to an ever-expanding jazz milieu. Hailing from a legendary New Orleans musical family, he garnered acclaim as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Wynton Marsalis quintet. Subsequently, he formed his own group, but was in demand as a session player (Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Sting and Miles Davis). Additionally, he performed as a soloist for assorted symphonies and orchestras. This duality of classical music and jazz has produced a unique pursuit of artistic expression. In the family tradition, Marsalis has been involved in numerous collegiate workshops and instruction.
When Marsalis and Calderozzo decided to record as a duet, they wanted have a departure from the typical jazz collaboration. Songs Of Mirth And Melancholy does exactly that. With seven alternately-composed originals and two surprising covers, the duo gets to explore two sides of emotion. The opening track by Calderazzo, “One Way” is a swing piece, with a nimble stride piano lead that will bring a smile to any Fats Waller fan. Marsalis interjects a snappy tenor accent. In Marsalis’ first song, “The Bard Lachrymose,” his emotive soprano evokes a sense of quiet desperation, backed up by the classical piano accompaniment. The changes in sentiment and tempo are palpable. Calderazzo offers a waltz time arrangement of “La Valse Kendall” with a plaintive counterpoint by soprano again. There is an uncanny sense of harmony that the two musicians develop in their play. An undercurrent of Middle-Eastern (possibly Sephardic) passages adds an exotic texture.
The taut version of Brahms’ “Die Trauderne” is a cut classical in context. Marsalis’ soprano has the tone and resonance of a clarinet in this format. Nuance and late-night shading infuse Wayne Shorter’s 1984 opus with Weather Report (“Face On The Barroom Floor”) with bluesy elegance. The chemistry between the instruments is delicate and precise at the same time. “Bri’s Dance” has a frenetic dance cadence with several brilliant piano solos. There are staccato breaks that keep the momentum lively. The songwriting is excellent and moving. “Hope” (Calderazzo) is a heartfelt ballad that builds to a crescendo before a subdued finish. Inspired by the movie of the same name, “Precious” is meditative as tenor and piano explore its lyrical constructs.
TrackList: One Way; The Bard Lachrymose; La Valse Kendall; Face On The Barroom Floor; Endymion; Die Trauernde; Hope; Precious; Bri’s Dance
— Robbie Gerson