Review: Branford Marsalis at Norwich Cathedral

NNF16. Adnams Spiegeltent. Broken Back. Photo: submitted.

NNF16. Adnams Spiegeltent. Broken Back. Photo: submitted. - Credit: submitted

Branford Marsalis

Norwich Cathedral

The saints were with us that night in the cathedral

The glorious sacred place in the centre of our fine city, Norwich Cathedral, was thrillingly invaded by one of the greatest jazz musicians on our planet. Branford Marsalis is the eldest brother in a family of celebrated players, but he brings a distinctly individual, emotional and powerful character to the improvisations that he creates. One of the magical aspects of great jazz, unique to this genre, is that the player is making the music up, based on the chords of the tune, not just the melody. Usually this is with a group of musicians who are setting down these chords and the rhythms. However, a major part of the genius of Mr Marsalis is that he was supremely joyful, dynamic and thrilling across a full length concert, entirely on his own.

Perhaps he was not quite on his own in creating such fine music, for the celebrated echo of our cathedral added a dimension that made this concert even more thrilling. Heavens, he used this to massive effect, whether he was playing his soprano, alto or tenor sax, though each has its own distinct pitch, timbre and sound. You would not have heard a pin drop - for his glorious music swelled and filled our fine cathedral. Significantly, there was not a second of coughing, fidgeting or shuffling across that vast capacity audience. Like me, they were all mesmerised by his sheer originality and creativity. Quite a few of the enthusiasts there were musicians themselves, clearly thrilled by a master class of emotion, originality, creativity and perfect control of his instruments.


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The venue (if that is not an irreverent word) was just superb for its acoustics and atmosphere. Also it added an almost spiritual dimension to his inspired playing of both great classics in the genre and wonderful original pieces. Such is the creativity of the man that he finished his joyful set with a startlingly original version of the usually-tired and predictable jazz classic that every jazz band in every village hall seems to play; The Saints go marching in.

That evening saw a musical genius at a level that I have never heard before. The jazz enthusiasts of Norwich also seemed to love everything that he did on that memorable night. Somewhere up there, I am sure, the builders of our fine cathedral would have felt this was a perfect use of their own wonderful creation.

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Roger Haywood

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