JAZZ REVIEW : Bare-Bones Marsalis at the Strand

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The theory that less is more was put to the test severely on Saturday when Branford Marsalis played a one-night stand at the Strand in Redondo Beach.

Best known for his numerous quintet and quartet recordings, first with brother Wynton and then with his own group, the saxophonist this year stripped down to trio size, no doubt on the assumption that the absence of a piano would afford him greater freedom.

On Saturday, however, the show scheduled for 7:30 p.m. had not started by 8:30 because the bassist, Bob Hurst, was missing. Marsalis decided to go ahead with the talent at hand, namely his drummer, Jeff (Tain) Watts. The duo proceeded with “St. Thomas,” a tune so basic that the few chords were implicit without the bass. Playing tenor sax, Marsalis made superlative use of his vast improvisational vocabulary, though Watts with his “stumbling drum” style sometimes left doubt as to where the beat was.


Hurst finally arrived and the rest of the set provided a well-rounded picture both of the advantages and limitations inherent in this instrumentation. Marsalis, on soprano or tenor, showed his mastery of rhythmic and tonal invention on his own “Citizen Tain,” on an early Ornette Coleman piece and on Hurst’s “Roused About,” named for the late saxophonist Charlie Rouse.

Only on the one ballad, “Everything Happens to Me,” was the piano conspicuous by its absence; a song of this type tends to lose its essence without a keyboard (or guitar) to stress its essentially harmonic nature.

Overall, the interplay within this tight unit was intriguing, though it was hard to avoid the inference that the senior brother of this gifted family will move on, in due course, to bigger and bolder adventures.