It may have taken just three days to record, but this new duo recording from sax player Branford Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo has 13 years of music-making behind it, dating back to when Calderazzo replaced the late, great Kenny Kirkland in the Branford Marsalis Quartet in 1998. We've come to expect a superabundance of imagination from both these players, but in Songs of Mirth and Melancholy Marsalis and Calderazzo seem to tap into even deeper levels of musical empathy and intuition.
Having finally decided to take the plunge and record a decision precipitated by a short, four-tune set at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival - what impresses most over the album's nine tracks is the sheer variety of treatment. Calderazzo's rollicking opener ''One Way'' presents a powerful mash-up of rolling boogie-woogie and Monk-like angularity (the melodic contrary motion leading to a crunching dissonance could be straight out of Monk s Brilliant Corners). The hushed intimacy of Marsalis's ''The Bard Lachrymose'', which references Prokofiev, Wagner and Schumann, deftly liberates the melodic line from the bar line, while the sparkling interaction and melodic subtleties of another Marsalis tune, ''Endymion'', make a striking centre piece.
As well as a sumptuous cover of Wayne Shorter s ''Face on the Barroom Floor'' (from the Weather Report album Sportin Life), there s also a tender interpretation of an early Brahms song, ''Die Trauernde'' (The Mourner), which Marsalis identifies as ''the inspiration for how we approach everything as a duo''. With its rhythmic ebullience and boldly drawn counterpoint, the album s sign-off, ''Bri s Dance'' - from Calderazzo's solo CD Haiku - is one of the most extraordinary things I've heard this year. And, as one has come to expect of all Marsalis Music releases, the album is beautifully recorded too. --The Arts Desk