Branford Marsalis Near the end of Branford Marsalis's opening set at Blues Alley on Saturday night, the New Orleans-bred reedman sounded for all the world as if he were channeling a tenor sax titan. Not Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane, as one might expect, though their influence was apparent earlier in the evening. Rather, once Jeff "Tain" Watts began orchestrating a two-step barn dance on drums, Marsalis charged "Countronious Rex" with the kind of honky-tonk tone associated with Nashville kingpin Boots Randolph, adding a lighthearted coda to a passionate performance.
Indeed, "Spartacus," the Marsalis tune that opened the concert, was something altogether different, its burning intensity sparked by the reedman's tenor and stoked by the rhythm section's racing swing pulse and tumbling commotion.
Marsalis, who clearly thrives on Watts's aggressive attack, projected a fervently expressive tone, and the arrangement was further distinguished by pianist Joey Calderazzo, who contributed a teeming improvisation before the tune shifted to an atmospheric fade.
Two curiously constructed pieces followed: Watts's "Stretto From the Ghetto," which casually juxtaposed blues and swing rhythms, and Kenny Kirkland's "LonJellis," a modal piece that featured Marsalis's spiraling soprano sax. Both were nimbly executed and, albeit in different ways, warmly insinuating.
It was the "Cassandra," however, that created the broadest dramatic arc. An episodic piece composed by Marsalis and performed on soprano, the ballad found the quartet, including bassist Eric Revis, translating epic storytelling into a subtly modulated rhapsody. Alas, the spell was rudely punctuated by a ringing cell phone.
The engagement runs through tomorrow.
-- Mike Joyce
The Other Ones Ahuge Deadhead reunion took place in the streets surrounding MCI Center Friday night. Vendors hawked old-school drug paraphernalia and cubes of an unidentified herb called "nuggets," and a lot of folks strolled around taking hits off big black balloons. Whatever gas was in the balloons appeared to incite exhilaration. Inside the arena, meanwhile, the music of the Other Ones, the combo made up of surviving Grateful Dead members, was leaving an audience of 20,000 similarly delirious.
Deadheads have been hoping for this tour ever since Jerry Garcia's 1995 death, so there was no curbing their enthusiasm. The crowd stood and danced for the entire three hours the band was onstage, and whenever Bob Weir or any of his mates sang -- as on "Not Fade Away," "Sugar Magnolia," "Throwing Stones," "Cryptical Envelopment" and "U.S. Blues" -- the words were sung from the floor to the rafters.
But in the Dead oeuvre, lyrics mainly just take up space between jams. At concerts, Garcia's free-range guitar-picking was the main ingredient that turned what were four-minute songs on records into half-hour opuses.
The Other Ones aren't messing with this recipe, though the elongating licks are now played by Jimmy Herring of the Aquarium Rescue Unit.
Herring's been a surrogate legend before, having filled in for Dickey Betts when he was kicked out of the Allman Brothers, and he noodled the night away in the same tones and at the same pace as Garcia would have were he still around.
During an intermission that ran for nearly an hour, longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter took the stage to offer his versions of songs he'd contributed to the band, including "Uncle John's Band." Hunter's off-key, rambling rendition of that classic tune could come off as outsider art or even parody to a non-Deadhead. But from this crowd, Hunter got only love.
Maybe it was the balloons.
-- Dave McKenna
Jam Crew Jam Crew dancers have no shortage of attitude or energy and their spirit is contagious. The company rolled through hip-hop, tap and modern in a sold-out performance Saturday at the Jack Guidone Theater, often accompanied by a charged audience chanting "Jam Crew, Jam Crew." Artistic director and choreographer Vanessa Williamson knows how to enliven a crowd.
The evening first focused on hip-hop, ranging from its more recent MTV-like incarnation in "Light It Up" to '80s break dancing in "B-Gyrlz," one of the night's premieres. The acrobatic spins and one-armed handstands by the troupe's female dancers made a refreshing contribution to a style dominated by men.
Another take on hip-hop history came in "Tap Interlude." Williamson, with dancers Mistie Adams, Tony Elder and Aysha Upchurch, highlighted the similar rhythms in tap and hip-hop music, eventually allowing the tapping to become the sole music for the other dance.
Though enjoyable, the show's hip-hop elements suffered from a lack of choreographic complexity. This may be attributable to hip-hop's street roots, which consist of unison dance and virtuosic solos, but stage presentations demand more structural innovation. Williamson showed her choreographic skills more readily in "The Crime" and "Scream," both of them fusions of modern and hip-hop. In "The Crime," a band of intense criminals danced victim Michele Morris to near death, encircling her with large, tense movement, as she desperately threw herself both into and out of their reaching arms.
The show was repeated for another sold-out audience yesterday.
-- Clare Croft
Jay-Z Jay-Z had carte blanche Friday night at Nation -- tickets were awarded free through WPGC-FM, ensuring a worshipful crowd that probably would've been thrilled if the hip-hop titan did 10 minutes of yoga.
But Jay-Z proved to be magnanimous, strolling the stage for more than an hour and limiting the promotional pitches for his new disc, "The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse." A few numbers were a cappella, aimed directly at fans who've memorized every nuance of the Brooklyn native's street-inspired rhymes.
But there was thunderous sonic excess, too, especially via the tracks from an earlier Jay-Z disc, "The Blueprint," which has provided a stream of urban-radio hits since its release last year. "Hola Hovito," with its indulgent bass line and shout-out chorus, was the early high point; later, the smash-'em-up synth riff and crackling snare drums of "U Don't Know" nearly brought down the house. The show's attempts at corporate synergy were a little less successful. Roc-A-Fella Records sidekicks Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel and Freeway dominated the middle third of the evening, and the overall vibe flattened a bit.
Jay-Z himself conspicuously avoided overt mentions of his eternal feud with rapper Nas, but he gave extended tributes to hard-core hip-hop's two latter-day icons, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Their beef was solved Cosa Nostra-style; Jay-Z and Nas seem content to trash-talk like NBA studs. The bodyguard in a black-and-yellow tracksuit who stood stone-faced at stage left had little to worry about.
-- Joe Warminsky