If there's one thing there's not a shortage of, it's tenor saxophonists. There are many, but few are at all like Branford Marsalis. Many saxophonists can be summed-up in a few glib words, but Branford (I hope he forgives my familiarity) has a style that reflects many styles, many "schools," many eras, yet there's nothing pastiche about him. Classic pre-bop styles (Coleman Hawkins, Georgie Auld, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet), proto-bop icons (Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon), hard-bop-through-fusion (Wayne Shorter), and the class-by-himself John Coltrane all have made their mark upon Branford's style, not excluding funk, R&B, and hip-hop, classical music, and rock (this particular Marsalis bro is a big Led Zeppelin fan). It's this kind of all-embracing mindset (at least in part) that makes Branford Marsalis one of the most distinctive sax-guys on the American scene.
A cold October Friday night in Chicago hosted the BM 4tet, and the elegant, tastefully swanky Symphony Center was packed with music fans. This band of his has been a going concern for a few years now: Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts, drums. This foursome plays like a real band, not a bunch of cats waiting to make it as leaders they've plenty of fire, tempered by a special unity. Branford, needless to say, wailed at length, but without any water-treading or noodling his solos were possessed of a composer's logic, invention, and non-gooey/soppy emotion. Heck, when he soloed on soprano, he sounded nothing like either soprano-icon JC Trane or Steve Lacy (not that there's anything wrong with that). Calderazzo was spare and lyrical in the ways of forebears Red Garland and (acoustic) Herbie Hancock, but man, could he turn on the fireworks, cutting loose with some percussive key-cracking recalling slightly McCoy Tyner and Don Pullen. I wish I could say something about Revis' bass playing not because he was lame or anything, mind you, but the high-energy, propulsive bashing of Watts kind of drowned Revis out. I can't say if it was due to the the sound system, Watts' personal volume (and Watts was indeed riveting, by gum), or where I was sitting, but I couldn't hear Revis much and even Calderazzo's audio-presence was "overcome" from time to time. But the crowd was not deterred they belonged to the Branford 4tet that night for well over 90 minutes, and into the weekend, too, I'll wager.