Branford Marsalis Trio

When Branford Marsalis signed on as the bandleader foil for Jay Leno’s nocturnal escapades–making him briefly better known than his brother Wynton–it cramped his touring schedule. Then he established Buckshot LeFonque, a jazz and hip-hop crossbreed that further kept him from his true calling: the creation of sinuous, long-limbed saxophone solos. No wonder his first Chicago jazz date in five years has stirred celebratory anticipation. (Whatever you think of Buckshot–which takes its name from an alias Cannonball Adderley once used in the 50s–it lacks the open-sky opportunities for extended improvisation of Branford’s trio.) The most adventurous and challenging improviser of the whole damn family, Branford has polished his controlled abandon to a high sheen. On both tenor and soprano, his knuckle-busting improvisations brim with ideas. His solo lines have the character of an intrepid hunting dog: paradoxically, they find the straightest route to the prey by investigating every cranny of the terrain. Branford’s translucent tone and skipping technique give his music an almost rococo quality; on the other hand, the length and occasionally epic scope of his solos can veer toward the Wagnerian. His brand-new album, The Dark Keys (Columbia), does a fine job of balancing these opposing impulses, and reveals a working band in full flower–thus raising the stakes for his appearance next week. I’ve never fully warmed to the drumming of Jeff “Tain” Watts, but in any case his fulminations always sound best in situations like this trio, where he has the most freedom. Reginald Veal arrived late to the Branford trio–which, for most of its nine-year existence, has pivoted on the bass work of Tonight’s Robert Hurst–but judging by the new CD, he and Watts have quickly locked into a springy, reflective, propulsive, buoyant groove. Advance tickets wouldn’t hurt. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, December 13 and 14, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, December 15, 4 and 8 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Caines.