Branford Marsalis Quartet

Cabaret Jazz room at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, March 31


Photo by Erik Kabik

Three settings: Soothe your soul. Warm your soul. Scorch your soul. However they fiddle with the thermostat, the Branford Marsalis Quartet keeps the musical temperature exquisitely cool.

Following the SFJAZZ Collective’s listless opening of the Cabaret Jazz room, the new venue got the true launch it deserves courtesy of the Marsalis collective. Had The Smith Center not been constructed of such sturdy stuff, this foursome—sax man Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and superhuman drummer Justin Faulkner—would have blown the roof off the place and sent it hurtling into Symphony Park.

Facing a packed, rapt house, the ensemble put the crowd into orbit via “The Mighty Sword,” a seven-minute rocket ride of propulsive riffs with soaring solos from the ensemble’s new album, Four MFs Playin’ Tunes. Butter could melt inside the bell of Marsalis’ horn, warmth commingling with virtuosity to produce his singular, signature sound.

“We’re going to do this song by Barry Manilow,” Marsalis deadpanned to audience giggles—yes, he was joshing—but there was nothing “Copacabana”-like about this night and this place, which echoed more with the vibe of the legendary Birdland.

Screams of appreciation and standing ovations accompanied not just songs but individual solos. Especially dazzling was Faulkner, who just might be three drummers in one, his solo so powerful and exhilarating that you’d wonder if the late Buddy Rich had shucked off his immortal coil and returned in Faulkner’s body. Rub drumsticks together this vigorously and you make fire.

Excerpting further from Four MFs, the quartet blasted into Thelonious Monk’s hard-swinging “Teo,” as well as Newell Chase’s “My Ideal.” However, when the audience demanded an encore, Marsalis refreshingly opted for the lush and reflective “Hope,” an original composed by Calderazzo from last year’s Songs of Mirth and Melancholy—an album of duets from the pair—and performed by them with subtle lyricism.

Among the appreciative patrons, seated at a back-row table with this reviewer, was Smith Center President Myron Martin, quietly groovin’ to what he brought to town. What he brought to town this night—and for the promise of many nights—was gold. Every jazz fan in the city owes him a bouquet of flowers. ★★★★☆

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Assessment: This joint should, can and hopefully will jump. Five chandeliers sparkling above declare it in style. Experiencing America’s native music in the Cabaret Jazz room at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts was encouraging when it opened March 17, even if the featured opener, the SFJAZZ Collective, was too cerebral to kick-start this cozy jewel with any verve.