Anyone who knows Branford Marsalis, even a little bit, knows that he is never loath to speak his mind. That being said, Marsalis—who celebrated his 51st birthday a day early at the unveiling of the Ellis Marsalis Center Of Music in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, his home town—approached this 2002 Blindfold Test in a rather diplomatic mood.
By the way, Branford’s new release, a sax-piano (Joey Calderazzo) duo recital entitled Songs of Mirth And Melancholy [Marsalis Music], is a lovely, introspective recital.
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1. James Moody, “That Old Black Magic” (from YOUNG AT HEART, Warner, 1996) (Moody, ts; Mulgrew Miller, p; Todd Coolman, b; Billy Drummond, d.)
[TO PIANO INTRO] Oh, it’s Thelonious Monk! It could never be Thelonious Monk because the eighth notes are way too even. Swing, goddammit! Shit is swingin’! The bass player is using one of those irritating pickups. But my initial guess, based on the sound of it, would be Ray Drummond. I’m wrong. It has that sound, though. It’s swinging, whoever it is. When you listen to the pickup, you hear the bass sound, but you don’t hear the characteristics of the instrument. There’s only like DUM-DUM, you don’t hear like DOOM-DOOM. The pickup is evil, man. It’s a Communist plot. [Your brother...] That’s just a joke, though. We just do that shit to make bass players mad, and it works every time. If you’re going to play that fast, why not play it in that tempo? To me, all the chords are right, and the saxophone player is playing on the chords, but the solo doesn’t have like a shape. If you listen to it, it’s like harmonically correct, but it’s not… The chord structures are right, but the solo’s not… I prefer not to play that way. I prefer to play a solo that has an arc to it, like a beginning-arc-end, with the structure of the chords, where like it’s a singable thing. He sets up a motif, and then he goes elsewhere. [Any idea from the sound who it is?] No. If I had to guess, I’d say Lew Tabackin. Clifford Jordan? But he never really played that fast. [pianist] Double time. My guess would be Mulgrew Miller. Yeah, that’s Mulgrew for sure. Is the bass player Peter Washington? He walks lines like Peter. The saxophone player is bedeviling me now. I don’t know who it is. I give up. Who is it? [Moody] No shit. Man, I don’t remember Moody’s sound being that mellow ever. Ever! I would have never guessed it. But now that you say it, he plays the way Moody plays. But the SOUND threw me off. 5 stars for Moody. Who’s the bass player? That was Todd!? Shit, yeah, man. Moody’s a classic, man.
2. Tim Garland, “I’ll Meet You There” (from STORMS/NOCTURNES, Sirocco, 2001) (Garland, ss; Geoff Keezer, p.; Joe Locke, vibes)
Boy, that’s a thin sound. The higher up they go, the thinner it gets, a la Jan Garbarek. It could be a lot of people. It’s a beautiful piece, but it spells along chord guidelines rather than coming through it. I was listening to this, and I started thinking about the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto. The chord changes are changing like crazy, but the melody line is almost more mathematical than melodic. But it’s a popular writing style, a lot of people do it, so it’s a matter of personal choice. It’s like they taught us in harmony class when we were 15, the best resolution in music is that of a half-step. The saxophone player… Mark Turner. Chris Potter. It could be Stefano DiBattista. There’s a lot of cats who play that way. Dave Liebman. He plays the shit out the saxophone, though. See that? [ASCENDING LINE] That’s just not my taste. It’s a beautiful orchestration. Everybody’s playing great. [AFTER] Got me. 5 stars. Joe Locke’s bad, man.
3. Steve Coleman, “Embryo” (from THE ASCENSION TO LIGHT, BMG-France, 1999) (Coleman, as, comp.; Shane Endsley, tp; Gregoire Maret, har; David Gilmore, g; Anthony Tidd, eb; Sean Rickman, d)
Checkin’ out that Ornette! Oh, that’s that harmonica player everybody’s using in New York now. Tain just used him. I can make a general guess. Music from the loft scene. That club down there. It’s not from the Knitting Factory? I’m not saying a Knitting Factory. I’m saying the scene, the loft scene. [Yes and no.] The saxophone player’s not giving me anything to go with. Ah!!! Steve Coleman. Bingo. Thank you, Steve. I was waiting, “throw me a fuckin’ bone here, man; give me something.” Well, he changed his style up. That’s cool. I think he’s one of the great thinkers of jazz. I don’t agree with some of his outcomes at times, but the thing that I love about him is that he and I… I can sit down with him and have an earnest dialogue about the history of jazz, and it never gets into, “Well, man, I’m trying to get my own thing, and cats listen to those old cats.” I mean, there’s a little bit of that in him, but not to the point where he would just intentionally disregard 60 years of history out of fear. His intellectual curiosity is fantastic. I enjoy him a lot. I like his playing. That’s what I liked about Miguel Zenon, is he checked out Steve as well. But he even found a way to incorporate it… When Steve does it sometimes, it sounds like angular and removed. Zenon took it and made it mainstream almost. But it’s great when you hear a cat who had an influence, since he obviously grew up not only listening to Steve Coleman. Whereas a lot of guys tend to pick their one hero, he clearly listened to other things, and that’s what makes it not sound like a ripoff or a shitty imitation. [You said he changed his style.] Well, you remember when he was doing the M-BASE thing. It’s like the band was always shifting. Nothing was constant. The bass lines weren’t constant, the rhythms…the drums weren’t constant. So now it’s more like this is real like Afro-Cuban, or even African moreso, or even Sumatran, something like that. I like that motherfucker, man. I always did. I didn’t buy into the whole M-BASE thing. I think it was a great marketing idea to give it a name, but I didn’t buy into… One of the things that Steve understood is that if you give your direction in music a name, people will jump on the bandwagon and buy in, whereas if he had just called it “jazz,” people might have just gone, “Ah, what is this shit?” It gave it a mystique and it gave it a philosophy, so then you could have people jumping on the bandwagon. They could say, “I’m into M-BASE.” But they didn’t really withstand the test of time, as those kinds of trends don’t. But his music withstands the test. I think giving his music a title like M-BASE didn’t really do it justice, because it made it seem it was separate of the jazz continuum — and it isn’t. It’s very inclusive. It’s very much part of the jazz continuum to me. It’s not some brand-new sect. It would be like if Ornette Coleman took his music and gave it a name, which he eventually did with Harmolodics. But when he first hit the scene, there was none of that. He was playing, and people dug the shit, and people hated it, and then the people who hated it were forced to deal with the fact that it was some hip shit, and then they either pretended to like it or just kept their mouths shut. But M-BASE… Then all of a sudden you had all these other musicians making records in the M-BASE crew, and a lot of them didn’t have the same historical expertise that Steve did, so the records couldn’t sustain themselves. I think if Steve had done more to talk about just the tradition of the music and all the shit that he actually did listen to, if he wanted to start a movement that way, he could have furthered it. But then it would have meant more homework for the people who chose to embrace M-BASE than less homework, and they seemed to go the path of less homework rather than more. But Steve has never gone the path of less homework. He is a studious, studious cat. 5 stars.
4. Jerry Bergonzi, “Paul Gauguin” (from Nando Michelin, ART, Double-Time, 1998) (Bergonzi, ts; Michelin, p., comp.; Fernando Huergo, b; Steve Langone, d; Sergio Faluotico, perc.)
Another long-ass intro! Jesus! It’s great to hear Wayne getting his due. For a whole lot of years people slept on him, so I’m happy. It’s a great piece. It’s Wayne’s shit. I am definitely not a person that you are going to see criticizing somebody emulating a great musician. That’s amazing. Who is this? [AFTER] Is that Bergonzi? Man, he sure did change up his shit. Some bad shit. The composition is Wayne, even to the point where when he hits the low note, he drops off. But then the solo is real Coltranesque. Even when he hits the upper register notes, he growls and makes them lighter the way Coltrane used to. I’m going to have to get me some more Bergonzi. He’s one of the bad motherfuckers. 5 stars. The entire compositional structure was Wayned out. But that was great. I don’t know this cat, but I want to check out his record. Man, Bergonzi sounds great. He has such a fat sound! I’m all for that. Not as a finished product, but everything is a work in progress. How old is Nando Michelin? We’ll see when he’s about 40-45.
5. Don Braden, “Fried Bananas” (from THE FIRE WITHIN, RCA, 1999) (Braden, ts; Christian McBride, b; Jeff Watts, d)
I like that section. It was nice. He went with a theme and he sat on it through the chord changes. [Any idea who the bass and drums are?] No. It’s good to hear people do Sonny Rollins, too. Good to hear Sonny get his due. I have no idea. Nobody. The drummer is either Tain or it’s somebody biting off Tain. It’s Tain. Is that Bob Hurst? It ain’t Revis, because he don’t play like that. Whoever he is, he’s not using a pickup, and I’m grateful for that. I don’t think. Wait a minute. I can’t tell on this record actually if they’re using a pickup or not. I have no idea who the saxophone player is. [IMMEDIATELY UPON BASS SOLO] Christian McBride. Nobody else can play that. I believe in the Ray Brown joke, “Oh, drums stop, very bad luck, next comes bass solo.” [The safari joke.] Yeah. Ucch, bass solos. Who wants to hear this besides bass solos? The only bass solos I really like hearing are Jimmy Garrison’s solos. They’re germane to the piece. I mean, this is technical prowess. But… You know what I mean? But it’s like having a center who can run a forty in 4.2. [That's a good thing.] It’s a good thing, but ultimately his job is to sit in the trenches and kick people’s asses, not to run out for a pass. [It's also to lead the runner.] Centers don’t lead runners. Guards lead runners. [Centers do lead runners.] Centers don’t lead runners, dude. [Kevin Mawae leads runners.] Oh, yeah, when they’re going up the gut. But it’s not his speed; it’s his strength. [AFTER] Is that Don? See, Don’s changed his playing up a lot. I would have never guessed that. So I’m glad I shut my mouth. If you put on one of Don’s early records, or the stuff he did with Wynton, he sounds nothing like that. So bravo for him. I wish they’d used a bigger studio. The room is so small that it can’t capture the personality of the instrumentalists. When Tain hits the drums, it’s… That’s why I didn’t know it was him. The ceiling is so low, and they probably have him in an isolation booth so the cymbal doesn’t travel, so they have this really light sound. So it’s not EQ; it’s the room. Cool. Don Braden, 5 stars.
6. Joe Lovano, “Tarantella Sincera” (from VIVA CARUSO, Blue Note, 2002) (Lovano, ts; Byron Olson, cond.)
They had such a beautiful thing going, and then they ruined it with that waltz. I had my eyes closed… Oh, well. Is Gil Goldstein the arranger on this. It’s reminiscent of work that he’s done. The first time I really heard his work was on a Milton Nascimento record called “Andaluce,” and I was like, “Wow!” I don’t know who the tenor player is. I’ll keep listening. It’s Lovano. Bad-ass cat. One of my favorites. I prefer less notes on ballads. But that’s me. Joe is always doubling. And who can argue with Joe? I can’t. 5 stars. Joe Lovano. The man. Beautiful song. You’re going to send me the name of the record, so I can cop it. [Any idea of the song's origin.] No… Oh, he did another one of those? It smacks of a marketing ploy. He did one for Sinatra a couple of years ago. I mean, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m totally full of shit, but I’m really convinced that people who are Caruso fans are not going to go and buy Joe doing Caruso. I’m a fan and I’ll buy it. But the point is that Caruso didn’t write anything. So if it’s a Caruso record, it’s actually a Verdi record and a Puccini record. Caruso didn’t write anything. [This is all vernacular music, Neapolitan street songs that Caruso recorded at the turn of the century.] I understand that. But from a musical point of view, it’s a record about Neapolitan street songs or Neapolitan love songs or whatever you want to call them, but Caruso is the bait. I’m not a fan of the bait. I’m not saying I’m not a fan of the recording. If Joe Lovano comes to me and he’s on my label and says to me, “I want to do songs that Caruso sang,” I’m not going to say, “No, you can’t do it.” I’m going to say, “Great, but can we call it Neapolitan love songs instead of Caruso?” Because ultimately, those things have never been proven to work. That’s all I’m saying, that these records come out all the time, and I don’t know who they’re trying to market it to, but most of the people I know that like opera don’t make the cross. In that Diana Krall market, they like Diana Krall. It’s not the music she sings. It’s Diana Krall. So any time you’re in an environment where the music speaks for itself… I mean, Joe Lovano is Joe Lovano. I don’t think he has to do anything other than make records, and people will buy his records, and the more records he makes, the more people will buy them. Maybe I’m being naive here. But I think if the records were marketed as a continuation of the greatness that is Joe, rather than a record-by-record target concept, I think that it will serve Joe and the company better. It will be more beneficial.
7. Sonny Stitt, “I Never Knew” (from THE COMPLETE ROOST SONNY STITT SESSIONS, Mosaic, 1959/2001) (Stitt, ts; Jimmy Jones, p; unknown, b; Roy Haynes, d)
He’s got a Gene Ammons thing and the Charlie Parker thing, which to me equals Sonny Stitt. Sonny Stitt, I’d say. Lester Young. Go ahead, Sonny! But the vibrato was like that Chicago blues swinging kind of funky gritty… Yeah. My Dad was playing with Sonny in 1975, when I was 15. I was like a true Louisiana boy, respectful of my elders. “Come here, motherfucker!” Then he said something else. “Let me hear you play.” Oh, that’s all right. You’re working on the shit.” And he kept going. So finally, I said, “Well, you know what that shit is, Mr. Stitt.” He goes, “No, son. I can curse. You can’t.” I went, “Yes, sir.” [LAUGHS] It was great. Wynton was teasing the hell out of me. “Trying to be one of the big boys, huh? Curse in front of…” “Shut up, man!” But I’ll never forget it. He came back later on that year and played at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, and there’s a picture of us with Stitt. It’s great. [Do you know the tune?] Nope. Never heard it. ["I Never Knew"] I didn’t. I just love hearing this, because it’s an amalgam of things. The Kansas City kickin’ shit from the ’30s, the jump blues players like Bird. It’s all one thing, and it eventually codifies itself as a person. But you never escape your influences. Unless you make sure you don’t have any, then you don’t have to worry about it. [piano] One chorus? That’s not fair. So I have to guess. Because I couldn’t tell. Hank Jones? Close! The drummer? [Roy Haynes] I was going to say Roy! That’s amazing! But I was sure it wasn’t him, so I said, “Nah, it ain’t him.” In this context… Well, Roy is one of those amazingly versatile musicians. 5 stars.
8. Seamus Blake, “Children and Art” (from ECHONOMICS, Criss Cross, 2000) (Blake, ts; Dave Kikoski, p; Ed Howard, b; Victor Lewis, d; Stephen Sondheim, comp.)
Mmm! Talk to me, Papa. Whoever it is, is talking. It’s beautiful. Mmm! This is beautiful. I love restraint. I’m a huge fan of restraint. [Do you know the tune?] No. But if I had to guess… Is it a jazz composer? Okay. I don’t know the tune. It’s a pretty song. They’re playing it great, too. Mmm! Oh, giveaway. Seamus Blake. I’m not a fan of that echo. That’s how I knew it was him immediately. But it sounds great. They’re playing the song great. But it immediately lost its timeless quality as soon as that shit started — to me. The whole point of effects, especially when you’re doing popular records… It’s like it’s all ear candy when you’re doing it. It’s more like for the artists and… People don’t even notice a lot of that stuff. And that music lends itself to that. It’s almost like listening to Beethoven with a doubling effect. For what? So the song is beautiful and it’s going, and then this shit starts, and it throws you in another place. Well, it threw me in another place. It may not throw other people, but it definitely threw me in another place. Oh, well. Go ahead, Seamus! He’s a bad cat. I like Seamus. [It's a Sondheim song.] I don’t know it. I’m not a big Broadway guy. I’m a medium Broadway guy. Band sounds great. 5 stars for Seamus. No, 4 stars for Seamus. He lost a point with that fuckin’ effect! [LAUGHS] Deduct a point. The digital delay gets a one-point deduction. That was Dave Kikoski? It’s just great to hear cats in a moment of repose, with some restraint. Their playing takes on a whole different character, and that’s great. I’m happy to hear that. Ed Howard on bass? No kidding. Cool.
9. Evan Parker, “Winter vi” (from THE TWO SEASONS, Emanem, 1999) (Parker, ts; John Edwards, bass; Mark Sanders, d)
That took some practice. Took a lot of practice to get that together. It’s not going anywhere. It’s just sitting there. Sometimes playing out has a purpose, and sometimes it’s just playing out. To me, this is just playing out. The saxophone player has practiced a lot, and he has all this technique at his disposal. But what his band is playing is not affecting his outcome at all. He’s just playing what he plays. And it’s formidable. It’s hard stuff to play. Versus hearing somebody like David Ware, who is definitely influenced by what his band does, this just seems like they’re not playing what he’s playing and he’s not playing what they’re playing. It might be Garzone; this is the kind of stuff he… But I don’t know who it is. [Evan Parker] Oh. Okay. Evan Parker’s English. I know him. I mean, if you listen to Cecil play or you listen to Horace Tapscott or David Ware, they have a different thing to it. Even a sonic thing. They don’t seem to be dealing with the sonic thing. It just kind of meanders. For me. Well, I should qualify it. Come on, man. You remember me in the old days. I spoke with complete absolutes. I’m wiser now. For me, the shit don’t work. I want people to understand that this is my opinion. This is not dogmatic fact. It gets louder in volume, but it doesn’t change in intensity. It doesn’t build as a group. It’s just getting louder because the drummer is getting louder. He’s not getting louder. It’s the difference between loudness and volume. It’s not voluminous. Like, when Trane and them did this shit, it was like… You know the record that just came out, the Olatunji sessions? Man! When that shit starts, it fucks you up immediately. This doesn’t do that for me. But… 5 stars.
10. Eddie Lockjaw Davis-Zoot Sims, “Groovin’ High” (from THE TENOR GIANTS, FEATURING OSCAR PETERSON, Pablo, 1975/2001) (Davis, Sims, ts; Oscar Peterson, p.; Niels Henning Orsted Pederson, b; Louis Bellson, d)
This is going to be a slopfest. This is a slopfest coming up, because the tempo is faster than the guys that are playing can play it. This is going to be hard, man, because it’s old guys. This is hard to identify. For instance, Don Byas when he was younger, was influenced by Coleman Hawkins, but by the time they got older and were playing together, it was hard to tell one guy from the other. These are older guys. [They were both about 50] They’re older guys. At slower tempos it would be easier to tell. This is a great song. The version Bird did, Dizzy and Bird, where they had the little.. [SINGS THE BREAK] I think Milt Jackson took a solo on it. Great. [Zoot's solo starts] That first solo could have been by almost anybody. But they were playing in a style that Coleman Hawkins used to play and then gave up as he got older. It could have been Don Byas or it could have been Zoot Sims. [The first one could have been Zoot Sims?] I think so, yeah. [How about this guy?] Al Cohn. That’s what my guess would be, because Zoot and Al always played together. Al always had more of a… [This is Zoot.] Oh, this is Zoot? I’m getting them confused. I don’t know who that first guy was. Like I said, it could be anybody. [Lockjaw Davis] I would have never in a million years guessed Lockjaw. Never. Go ahead, Zoot! Who the hell’s the piano player? That’s what I don’t like about these things, that nobody listens. [FOUR BARS] Oscar Peterson. Can’t nobody else play like that, except Art Tatum, and he wasn’t playing on these. Is this some of that Jazz at the Philharmonic shit? Whoo! Feel free to take a breath, Oscar. Is he hitting the hi-hat and kick drum? [SINGS DRUM PATTERN] I’ve got three guys in mind. The first is Jo Jones, the second is Louis Bellson, and the third is Buddy Rich. Bellson? Yeah, that’s the style. Louis could swing his ass off. I got to play with him once. It was a pleasure. We don’t need the Rock solo, Louis. Thank you.
I would never have guessed Lockjaw, because he didn’t play fast tempos. Every record I have him on, he’s not playing anything that fast. Medium-up, but not like that. That’s just too fast for him. The tempo is now almost half of what it was. Almost a half-time faster. [It's a show.] Oh, I know. Believe me. Fuckin’ Tain takes a solo, you come back and it’s just [SINGS ALL BEATS INTO EACH OTHER] Funny thing about drum solos, particularly in Rock bands, they look and sound great at the concert. You hear it back on the tape, that’s what it sounds like. But Louis, man, the motherfucker could play. He kept adapting. That’s the amazing thing. You wouldn’t expect a guy his age to play that, because he was clearly listening to a lot of Rock drummers, and that’s a cool thing. My Dad’s going to be mad that I missed Lockjaw, but hey. I never heard Lockjaw play a tempo like that. You got me good. 5 stars.