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Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral

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It took a while to get there, but Branford Marsalis’ first unaccompanied live album, cut in the same hallowed San Franciscan church-space as Duke Elilngton’s 1960s Sacred Concerts, feels like an inevitable visitation. This is one man alone with his three saxophones, but the music is almost always keenly dialogic, a series of conversations between horn and hall and improviser and attendees.

From the opening clarion call of Steve Lacy’s “Who Needs It,” which seems to speak in whispers from behind the reredos, summoning itself forward to greet those come to hear it, it’s evident that Marsalis intends to engage rather than orate. The cathedral itself factors into the sonics at play here; the longer, trill-concluding lines produce wispy echoes, which Marsalis uses almost to mark time, a most airy, subtle form of indirect percussion. The number comes to its close, there is a pause as if no one is sure how to proceed, and then the applause commences, a deeply communal vibe secured.

The material is rangy. There is an extemporization on a C.P.E. Bach sonata; a slow, soaring account of Marsalis’ own “Blues for One” that is appropriate for the setting; and the closing theme of The Carol Burnett Show, a riff, in part, on how well the secular and sacred are being blended here. “MAI, Op. 7” is the bravura alto piece, all pleasing Eastern tonalities. It’s as though Grace Cathedral has loosed itself from its Californian digs and become an everywhere rather than a mere somewhere. Tricky one-man accomplishment.