More than any member of his large, exceedingly prolific family, Branford Marsalis has proved willing to stretch the parameters of jazz and step well outside them on occasion. But as he showed on the first night of this rare small-club stint, he’s equally adept at maneuvering within tradition.
Fronting a quartet he’s employed extensively over the past several years, Marsalis opened in somewhat cerebral mode, meticulously unwinding a lengthy take on Paul Motian’s “Trieste.” Marsalis punctuated the piece with saxophone runs that covered plenty of territory both emotionally and tonally, flitting from Near Eastern mystery to brash urbanity.
Although there was a palpable comfort level in the musicians’ discourse, it seemed no one felt tethered to a script. That can be attributed to Marsalis’ cleverness as a leader — manifested most clearly in his sense of when to shoulder the load of a particular piece and when to pass the baton.
That m.o. wouldn’t be nearly as effective, of course, if the quartet didn’t possess the collective reflexes of a relay team. Pianist Joey Calderazzo was particularly impressive, not only in terms of energy exuded — long one of his trademarks — but in the affable gauziness that draped several of his solos.
Perf didn’t blast off with the improvisational fervor of some recent Marsalis recordings, but it did exude a welcoming warmth — particularly on a set-closing “Have You Met Miss Jones?” Marsalis eschewed the customary white-glove slant toward that standard, replacing it with a revamped arrangement that nodded to the original’s sass without setting it in amber– a fittingly nondoctrinaire cap to an evening of unself-conscious jamming.