Branford Marsalis Quartet (credit: Eric Ryan Anderson)

An Evening with Branford Marsalis at Emory: Hot Damn!

Branford Marsalis Quartet
February 18, 2022
Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, Emerson Hall
Branford Marsalis, saxophone; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums

Malik Roberts | 22 FEB 2022

This past Friday dusked almost unbearably cold when the legendary Branford Marsalis Quartet played at the Emerson Concert Hall at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts to a capacity audience befitting an unquestioned genius and long-standing icon in the music world. The only words I can use to sum up the band’s performance are “Hot damn!”

The Quartet’s entire performance was a 90-minute tour de force, a show-stopper ablaze with inventiveness and seemingly effortless improvisation. Every one of their prolonged jams was met with almost unceasing applause from the audience. The band members are soprano/tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Wynton Marsalis’ older brother), pianist Joey Calderazzo and bassist Eric Revis (both of whom are twenty-year veterans of the group), and drummer Justin Faulkner (who joined back in 2009).

The incredible concert opened with a hilarious and memorable anecdote from the bandleader, Mr. Marsalis. He prefaced the show with this: “A friend of mine took me golfing today… Froze my ass off.”

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From there, the Quartet launched into jam after jam after jam, leaving the audience starving for more of their singular brilliance all evening. As a band, Mr. Marsalis and company’s towering reputation is matched only by the extraordinary craftsmanship and finesse each player contributes. The climax was a cover of Thelonious Monk’s 1964 composition “Teo.” This particular number was written as a tribute to Teo Macero, who was the producer for innumerable jazz musicians under contract to Columbia Records.

Equally impressive were Mr. Faulkner’s ferocious, prolonged drum solos, which were reminiscent of two of the most extraordinary percussionists in the history of jazz, Art Blakey and Cozy Cole. Once Mr. Faulkner let loose on the drums, I honestly didn’t want him to stop. His ferocious drum solos left the audience awestruck. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. Calderazzo’s styling as a pianist, which is evocative of Bill Evans and John Lewis (the pianist for the Modern Jazz Quartet, not the late congressman). As a pianist, Mr. Calderazzo has a pronounced yet delicate touch, which shone through in the Quartet’s more relaxed and easygoing songs on the program.

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And finally, there’s bassist Mr. Revis, who studied under Mr. Marsalis’ father, Ellis, at the University of New Orleans and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio before joining the Quartet in 1997. Mr. Revis’ technique is as brilliant as that of any of the other members of the Quartet. His styling as the Quartet’s bassist is not unlike that of Paul Chambers, who is most remembered as the bassist in Miles Davis’ quintet from 1955 to 1963.

At the concert’s end, the entire audience (myself included) rose from their seats and broke into a thunderous, two-minute-long ovation. Then, the band retook the stage (because how could they not?) and gave the crowd a wholly justified encore that had the French Quarter of New Orleans stamped all over it—which makes sense since New Orleans is internationally regarded as the birthplace of jazz. The audience burst into applause again before filing out of the hall.

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Seeing the Quartet perform was one of the most memorable and rarefied experiences I’ve ever had, both as a concertgoer and a true music lover. It’s one of the most delightful and awe-inspiring concerts I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend. Like my experience seeing the Regina Carter Quartet perform earlier this year (whom I have to admit I’d never even heard of before I went to see them), Mr. Marsalis and company play jazz the way it should be played. Sadly, it’s exceedingly rare to hear such music anymore, let alone see it being played up close. That said, it does give one comfort to know that there are still musicians around to play it in such an inimitable fashion. If you’re as much of a jazz head as I am, you owe it to yourself to see the Quartet perform live because they are damn good. You’re welcome.

Personally, I didn’t want the night to end because I knew I’d freeze my ass off getting back home.

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Malik Roberts is a cartoonist, illustrator, humorist, film critic and historian, activist, scholar, art enthusiast, and music journalist. A native of Washington, DC, he has lived in Atlanta for the past twelve years.