Branford Marsalis & Buckshot LeFonque Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Friday 21 July 1995
And what would puritanical Wynton have made of the strippergram? After inveigling the reluctant audience to join in singing "Happy Birthday" to Frank the keyboard player, Branford and the boys ran furtively to the wings as a time-served stripper came on stage, took off her fur coat and then went into a backwards bend for the embarrassed Frank's delectation. Frank wasn't really having any and eventually a merciful Branford told the stripper to leave.
As a lapse of taste, however, this was nothing compared to the Hendrix- style guitar orgy that followed, Branford leaving the stage to allow his guitarist, bassist and drummer to perform a Jimi-trio of heavy rockist moves. "If you think this is a jazz gig, get your money back now. I got paid already, so I don't give a fuck," Branford had said with a smile on opening the show.
The funk, such as it was, came fairly haphazardly and rarely can a 10- piece band have been used more sparingly. Horn choruses (trumpet and trombone backing up Branford's sax) were gloriously tight, the solos brief and punchy, the leader himself well up to the mark on either tenor, alto or soprano, but they never really stretched out. Branford duetted with the turntable operative to effect, but neither the presence of rapper Soldier (a very old soldier indeed) or the scratched voice of Maya Angelou on "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" quite captured the "Buckshot" concept of deep funk from jazz-schooled musicians. Only once, when the horns went into a Parkeresque bebop-chorus, was the potential realised.
It was perplexing, because Branford is a killer player with a big personality and an ease of communication that must be the envy of his brothers. And who cares if he's not the next John Coltrane? The prospect of him becoming the next Boots Randoph, however, is enough to make anyone, never mind Wynton and Delfeayo, tut-tut superciliously.
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