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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Washinton Post > PERFORMING ARTS> Harry Connick Jr. And Branford Marsalis


Tuesday, June 28, 2005; C14

Harry Connick Jr. And Branford Marsalis

At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Sunday night, Harry Connick Jr. coined a phrase to describe one of the more crowd-pleasing aspects of his performance with saxophonist Branford Marsalis: "Total goofus." And that was before things got really silly.

At one point, for reasons too convoluted to explain, pianist Connick described his shock at discovering that Liberace was a terrific jazz musician. Marsalis, none too impressed, then asked if his New Orleans chum also knew any good John Tesh stories. That triggered an impromptu performance of the theme from "Entertainment Tonight," and the laughter in the hall didn't subside until the last note faded.

It wasn't all fun and gamesmanship, though. Connick and Marsalis recently recorded an album of duets called "Occasion," which revealed their rapport in both subdued and spirited settings. The concert was laced with tunes from the album, including the ruminative ballad "I Like Love More," the lighthearted "Spot" and the tenor-sax blues "Good to Be Home."

When the tempo picked up, Connick alluded to the duo's Crescent City roots with syncopated runs, rhythmic fits and starts and thumping chords. Marsalis, who underscored the mood with his piping soprano and robust tenor, evoked a particularly festive mood on the Mardi Gras-inspired "Light the Way." The more abstract pieces, on the other hand, often found the two musicians in quiet sync, anticipating or echoing each other's moves with ease and wit. Despite some tentative moments, the duo capped their brief summer tour -- three performances in all -- on a high note.

Opening the concert was a remarkably interactive quartet led by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon. A native of Puerto Rico, Zenon devoted the set to tunes from his band's most recent recording, "Jibaro." Referencing Puerto Rican folk melodies and dances with inherent appeal, the pieces were enlivened by Zenon's keening tone, pianist Luis Perdomo's dissonant attack, bassist Ben Street's nimble phrasing, and drummer Henry Cole's exceptional speed and polyrhythmic finesse.

-- Mike Joyce

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