Songs of Mirth and Melancholy
Jeff Tamarkin reviews new duo album from saxophonist and pianist on Marsalis Music
Sometimes an album’s title tells you everything you need to know. Songs of Mirth and Melancholy is truth in advertising, a concise, pinpoint description of what this recording offers. But the title alone doesn’t go far enough in conveying the level of elegance and intimacy resident within this collaboration between saxophonist Branford Marsalis and the pianist in his regular quartet, Joey Calderazzo. Since his induction into the band in 1998, when he replaced the late Kenny Kirkland, Calderazzo has consistently developed, his acumen as a player and the maturity of his songwriting adding significantly to the quartet’s breadth. Calderazzo has also released several albums as a leader that reaffirm his ingenuity.
In the duo setting, unencumbered, both musicians shine; but there’s no strutting going on here, no cutting contest, only a singular vision. Calderazzo’s “One Way,” one of the “mirth” songs, opens the set, a boogie romp that establishes the simplicity of the meeting on a good-timey note. The first of the “melancholy” numbers follows, Marsalis’ “The Bard Lachrymose,” a free-flowing melody both mournful and stately, and the mood hangs around for the next few: Wayne Shorter’s “Face on the Barroom Floor” retains the downtempo ambiance and pace of the late-period Weather Report version, yet manages to render it even gloomier by stripping it nearly bare.
Marsalis spends much of his time on the album playing soprano saxophone, a gambit that pays off. The instrument’s higher-pitched tone allows him to attain an appropriate fragility on tracks such as the Brahms number “Die Trauernde” and Calderazzo’s “Hope.” On the latter, Marsalis’ lively upper-register trilling flits like a Stephane Grappelli violin run. By the time the finale arrives, the giddy “Bri’s Dance,” the duo has created an indelible bond.