The Branford Marsalis Quartet, if not the absolutely finest jazz foursome working today, is certainly the most adept at bringing fire and ice together in one giant treat for an audience.
This was the case last Friday night when the famed group tantalized a Portland Jazz Festival crowd at the Newmark Theater.
Had the ghosts of John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker or Elvin Jones dropped in for a listen, they most likely would have led the cheers, whoops and hollers. Why? Because saxophonist Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts are doing now what they once did: moving the music forward, with unity of purpose.
Playing several selections from their newest release, "Braggtown," the band began with the burner, "In the Crease," with Marsalis on tenor and Watts pounding poly-rhythmically, driving his pal Branford to greater heights.
Marsalis shifted to soprano for a gorgeous ballad written by Calderazzo, "Hope." Placid and slow moving, it changed the mood and brought a sense of cool to the hall. Marsalis reached back in time to the 17th century and Henry Purcell's "O' Solitude," a beautifully slow classical exercise on which Calderazzo is featured along with Marsalis' melodic, upper range tenor.
The band dipped into Thelonious Monk's trove of compositions for "Rhythming" — a great romp. Saxophonist Devin Phillips — formerly of New Orleans, now a Portland resident — joined the quartet for some fun on the encore.
The festival continues this week with the De Priest Project performing at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 23 at the Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave.
Trumpeter Roy Hargrove also appears that night at 8 p.m. at the Newmark Theater, 1111 S.W. Broadway, and vocalist Nancy King holds forth at 8 p.m. that night at Abou Karim, 221 S.W. Pine St.
"RIVERSIDE PROFILES WES MONTGOMERY"
There are re-releases and then there are re-releases.
On some, the original material is so old that it shows its real age. For example: drumming has changed over the past 25 years or so. In some cases, the pianist or horn soloist sounds contemporary but the drumming reveals its true age. This material by guitarist Wes Montgomery sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded.
His version of "Round Midnight" with organist Mel Rhyne is gentle and lyrical and bears no hint of its recording date of 1959. The following tune, "West Coast Blues" hears Montgomery play a trunk load of chords in front of pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Tootie Heath.
Originally recorded in 1960, "Body and Soul" is brought to life with a swinging, up-tempo flute solo by James Clay following Montgomery's initial offering. There is a second bonus disc of eight tunes, one each by Bobby Timmons, Chet Baker, Bill Evans trio, Charlie Byrd, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Thelonious Monk and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet.
"RIVERSIDE PROFILES CANNONBALL ADDERLEY"
This release gets off to a rousing start with a Bobby Timmons tune, "This Here."
Cannonball's alto leads off with length and fire followed by brother Nat's cornet. Bassist Sam Jones and drummer Louis Hayes accompany them.
They get downright boppish with "Dizzy's Business" and add tenor saxophonist Yusef Lateef and pianist Joe Zawinul. The solo order is Cannonball, Nat and Lateef. "Star Eyes" is performed with a medium tempo with Victor Feldman on vibes and Wynton Kelly on piano.
The eight tracks use a variety of players with one, "African Waltz" using 19 musicians in the band for a two minute, eight second exercise. Perhaps the prettiest tune included is the ballad "Know What I Mean?" with Bill Evans on piano, Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums.