Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo (Marsalis Music)

Marsalis Mirth This duo keeps the Marsalis family brand’s reputation for classic, breezy jazz.

4 stars

9 tracks / 55 minutes

When the Branford Marsalis Quartet released their last album Metamorphosis, Marsalis – being a democratic kind of bandleader – gave each of his colleagues some space for their compositions. These pieces were fairly varied, but it was the work of pianist Joey Calderazzo that particularly impressed me. His relaxed, lyrical style made listening a real pleasure and some tracks were the sort that you could enjoy for hours. So it was exciting to see that he and Marsalis were to work together for this intimate collaboration, free of drums and any other outside interference.

There are really only two ‘Songs of Mirth’ and they frame the set. “One Way” typifies the timeless style that seems to follow Marsalis wherever he goes, maybe due to the family investment in jazz across the decades. There is something of the 1950s about this one. “Bri’s Dance” is a perky piece that sometimes feels about to trip over itself. It’s not one to dance to.

On these upbeat tracks, there is enough rhythm from Calderazzo’s left hand to ensure that no one will miss the percussion, but it is especially on the ‘Songs of Melancholy’ that the lack of drums makes so much difference to this release, as the two players are able to respond to each other freely and intuitively. Marsalis’s “The Bard Lachrymose” feels classical in its chords and stateliness, and the subtle pauses express as much emotion as the players’ lightness of touch, recalling a conductor letting his hand hover when he wants a note to hang.

These slower works can be mesmerising, especially Calderazzo’s “La Valse Kendall” and “Hope,” two pieces that typify his flowing, melodic writing.

While the playing is unhurried (why rush when the pair has 55 minutes between them?) it is still strikingly precise, without being clipped. Marsalis has a remarkable purity of tone and the space around his saxophones brings out every nuance. You can almost feel the air pulse gently through his instrument as “Precious” warms up.

Democratic as ever, Marsalis shares the writing with Calderazzo, but also with a couple of icons: “Face on the Barroom Floor” is a transfixing piece by Wayne Shorter that evokes old America and they allow 95 seconds to give Brahms’ unadorned “Die Trauernde” an airing.

The pair plays like a couple at a party or restaurant: their music gives ambience to the room and can blend in behind a conversation, but it is still played with such feeling that you could get lost in it and forget the rest of the room, should you wish.

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