Sax-master Branford Marsalis has played so well, for so long, some take him for granted. At the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last Thursday, his artistry in skill and feel, as bandleader and soloist, earned awe at the Hall's 37th Gala. He played tenor and soprano saxes, with costar singer Kurt Elling and secret weapon drummer Justin Faulkner, a one-man rhythm explosion, relentless in a good way.
Marsalis, Faulkner, pianist Joey Calderazzo and bassist Eric Revis doffed their jackets in the warm Hall. Elling kept his buttoned, his crooner’s gestures echoing Piscopo "doing" Sinatra. Musically, they rode the same train, from the pulsating instrumental launching pad ("The Mighty Sword"?) into Elling's first appearance in Gershwin's jazzer's ambition/mission statement "There's a Boat Dat's Leaving Soon for New York" to the encore New Orleans blues "St. James Infirmary."
While Brian Wilson played the vintage masterpiece "Pet Sounds” album straight through at the Palace on Wednesday, Marsalis, Elling and band hopscotched around their "Upward Spiral" album on Thursday. "Blue Gardenia" evoked genteel romance; Sting's "Practical Arrangement" was all post-modern ambivalence.
They got all the Brazilian bounce of Jobim's "So Tinha de Ser Com Voce," Elling crooning in Portuguese, but "Momma Said" went comic and wild. Calderazzo stood to put body English on "From One Island to Another" and "The Return;" Marsalis sailed in on soprano sax at the peak to take over, using rotary breathing to hold a chord with Elling's voice. Faulkner grinned in mid-jam, gathering energy for a stupendous roll that cued a quote of 'Trane's "A Love Supreme."
Maybe because the others got all the earlier flash and fire, Marsalis sent Revis out alone for the last encore, harvesting gusts of applause for a solo evoking elephants partying as the intro to "St. James Infirmary," Elling singing into a drinking glass as a plunger mute. It was elegant, it was warm, it was virtuosic; it was, well, gala and glorious.