Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling, Barbican, London — charisma and lyricism

07.17.17
Branford Marsalis
Financial Times

When Branford Marsalis invited Kurt Elling to record the album Upward Spiral with his long-running quartet, he gained a front-line partner as well as a charismatic vocal lead. Elling doesn’t just interpret a song, he inhabits it, drawing out its character through phrasing, note choice and tone. As the CD also proved, he is an ideal foil for the trenchant lyricism of the saxophonist’s aesthetic.
One year on, and the partnership flourishes. At this long, single-set performance, vocals intertwined with sax, mood-soaked harmonies were bittersweet and solos dug in, veered off at angles and stopped on the point of a pin. 
The quartet made clear their creativity from the off, with the opening instrumental “Mighty Sword”. Written by pianist Joey Calderazzo, the piece began with rippling two-handed piano, tightened into a cantering swing and, fuelled by Justin Faulkner’s muscular drums, ended at a gallop. 
As the evening progressed, Marsalis and Elling precisely matched each other’s intonations on the Chris Whitley poem “From One Island to Another”, twinned soprano sax shout with vocal falsetto on “As Long as You’re Living”, and riffed and faded to a whisper on “The Return (Upward Spiral)”. The first encore, “I’m a Fool to Want You”, was a beautifully played duet that showcased each musician’s sensitivity and range. Read the rest of the review here