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Jazz Reviews : Marsalis Makes It A Family Affair

November 26, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

Three members of the extraordinary Marsalis family appeared Monday at the Beverly Theatre. One of them did not perform: forgivably, since he was a day short of 1 year old. Branford Marsalis carried his son on stage in order to explain his reluctance to play an encore: "I have to be up early to take him to Disneyland." He then completed a soprano-sax sign-off while cradling the baby under his arm.

Delfeayo Marsalis, Branford's 20-year-old brother, also took part in the final tune, playing well-intentioned bebop trombone in which his ideas kept chasing his chops, sometimes catching up.

The main event was Branford Marsalis' brand new quartet, making its second public appearance. From the opening piece, Herbie Hancock's "Number 72," it was clear that the 26-year-old saxophonist's integrity was in no way affected by his sojourn with Sting. He is still playing the same uncompromising music that marked his efforts with brother Wynton, and his versatility on tenor is more impressive now than ever.

At times, as in Wayne Shorter's "502 Blues," he suggested a latter-day Dexter Gordon, but on his own "Solstice" you could almost have closed your eyes and imagined yourself back with the John Coltrane Quartet, with Marsalis' pianist and drummer, Julian Joseph and Louis Nash, echoing McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones while the excellent bassist, Delbert Felix, kept subtle but solid time.

The surprise of the show was "Body and Soul." Marsalis, who had only played the tune once before, brought to its harmonic grandeur a sensitivity that revealed a warmly affecting understanding of jazz basics.

On a couple of tunes he switched to soprano sax, showing his most contemporary and compelling side in a whirlwind "Limehouse Blues."

That the Marsalis group was able successfully to follow Bobby McFerrin was an achievement in itself. The singer, on stage alone for 45 minutes, is an amazing audio-visual experience. Tapping his chest for rhythm, occasionally singing bitonally, he is a man of very few words: Of his 11 numbers only five involved the use of the English language.

To dismiss McFerrin as a scat singer would be like calling the Rolls-Royce a nice car. Laughing, whooping, diving from falsetto to baritone, inducing an amazingly successful sing-along, he held the crowd spellbound. Because he doesn't seem to take himself seriously, neither will the history books, yet as a musical comedian he has something for all ages. In fact, he might have been the perfect entertainment for Marsalis' son at Disneyland.

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