The Branford Marsalis Quartet is to jazz what Dream Theater is to heavy metal. Oblique, dissonant, technical, free-form, improvisational, long-form, and above all, supremely talented.
Marsalis' harmonic choices are incredibly challenging - not only to play, which one can gather from watching his sheer effort, but also simply to listen to. Attending a BMQ concert isn't something done passively. The challenge requires active attention and even a bit of multitasking.
There are times throughout the set that it's difficult to believe that Marsalis, pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Falkner are actually playing the same song at the same time. They run the gamut from tender to aggressive, with any middle ground relegated to the very beginnings of the tunes.
Standout songs during their set were the Calderazzo-penned The Last Goodbye and Rhythmning, written by Thelonius Monk. Both are from the quartet's most recent album, Metamorphosen, released on Marsalis' own label in March 2009. The Last Goodbye is an achingly beautiful ballad driven by Rivas' pedal tone bass line; the harmonic interplay between Calderazzo and Marsalis is simply riveting.
Rhythmning saw the band shifting effortlessly between numerous meters and tempos, at times sounding like an imminent train wreck but never losing their grip on each other.
Falkner, the newest member of the quartet, is a mesmerizing drummer, often playing hunched over his kit, switching effortlessly between traditional and matched grip. Judicious use of mallets for both cymbals and drums gave sweet flavor to several tunes, including The Last Goodbye. Falkner's solo drew rabid applause from the packed house.
Marsalis' music is difficult to process, but well worth the effort.