[Dixielandjazz] Branford Marsalis & The Working Band

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Jan 21 07:19:13 PST 2005

Posted not because it is OKOM, but because of the thoughts throughout the
article about a "working band". And the fact that this band is playing a
"familiar" music to the audience.

Something OKOM bands might consider when presenting programs, and/or
striving to become "working" bands. Perhaps based on "Swing and Pulse"?

Steve Barbone

January 21, 2005 - NY TIMES - By BEN RATLIFF

A Thriving Relationship Based on Swing and Pulse

Branford Marsalis's opening set at the Village Vanguard on Tuesday night was
regular by his standards: no high concept, no new instrumentation, no theory
or argument via fancy choices of repertory. But in some cases, that's what
you want. In the case of this band, one of the better in jazz these days,
there's a reassurance in hearing something maintained.

That's the promise of a working band: the individualized group sound
delivered with sureness, optimism and inevitability, as if it were
everyone's common language. This quartet, with Joey Calderazzo on piano,
Eric Revis on bass and Jeff Watts on drums, has been together about five
years. (It hasn't played at the Vanguard since 2002.) But the primary bond
in the band - between the saxophonist Mr. Marsalis and Mr. Watts - goes back
nearly 25. A nearly constant relationship of that length has become rare for
jazz musicians just cresting in middle age.

At this point, their musical relationship is based not just on the big
picture but also on the pixels: not only a shared feeling for the
continuing, linear idea of swing, but also the pulse - all the fast or slow
pinpoint throbs that give the music traction. The two musicians are almost
wired together. Mr. Watts, folding beats within beats, amassing them by the
rattling, jangling dozen within each bar of music, is a melodic drummer. Mr.
Marsalis matches that melodic activity in his improvisations.

The set began with Paul Motian's "Trieste," and the group found its momentum
swiftly, about a minute after the opening theme. Mr. Calderazzo took his
turn to solo, and Mr. Marsalis followed, with Mr. Watts shadowing him. For
much of the rest of the set, the band followed fairly standard structures -
sometimes echoing the group interaction of John Coltrane's quartet
-scrambling the deck, inverting the relationship of solo to theme. But this
was the first set of the week's 14, and in jazz you don't need to abolish
something to prove that you understand it.

In the middle of the set they played Mr. Watts's "Vodville," a demonstration
of free jazz, smartening up for stretches into streamlined, regular rhythm,
as a parody of drunkenness. It's cute, up to a point: _an imitation of
catharsis that ends up proving the musicians' real athletic abilities. But
the ballad that came next, "The Ruby and the Pearl," was much better. Over a
slow habanera rhythm, Mr. Calderazzo settled into straight quarter-notes,
and Mr. Marsalis followed with a long, staccato improvisation. They worked
in relay at increasing the song's stately tension.

And, finally, as release, there was a home-run version of the standard "Have
You Met Miss Jones?" Mr. Watts and Mr. Marsalis, separately and together,
alternated light and heavy beats until they reached a headlong, buzzing,
strobe-light feeling. This was theme-solos-theme, not a formal reassessment
of the tune. But more important, it was a working band imposing its will at
full blast. 

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