Music » Critics' Picks

Branford Marsalis

Friday, August 6; Gateway Arch Stage on the St. Louis Riverfront

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Given their public personas as adults, it's tempting to speculate what the two eldest Marsalis brothers were like when they were young. Trumpeter Wynton seems as if he would have been the straight-laced hall-monitor type, constantly admonishing his peers to respect their elders and follow the rules, while tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis was more likely to have been the playful prankster, full of good humor and willing to try just about anything.

Public images tell only part of the story, of course. The grownup Wynton may have an unfortunate tendency toward self-important pedantry (and an irrational prejudice against electric instruments and most music recorded after 1965), but he's also capable of loosening his tie and playing exciting music, as St. Louis listeners heard during his set at this year's Jazz Festival in Shaw Park. And though Branford has received attention from the general public for non-jazz side ventures such as his stint as bandleader for Jay Leno, his hip-hop group Buckshot LeFonque and his sit-ins and sideman work with the likes of Sting and the Dead, the saxophonist has recorded plenty of serious, substantive modern jazz, drawing on the lessons of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Dexter Gordon to build a catalog that places him among the leading tenor men of his generation.

Marsalis' current ensemble (pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and the superb drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts) is a tight, creative and flexible working band, a relatively rare thing in jazz these days. With their help, Branford should have no trouble generating plenty of musical fireworks just as dazzling as the ones scheduled to fill the sky after the concert.

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