Marsalis Berklee Jams: Jazz Trio Fly, April 15, 16

By 
Joyce Linehan
March 9, 2009
Fly features Berklee alumnus Mark Turner, left. The band's new album <em>Sky & Country</em> will be released days before the Jam at Cafe 939.

Marsalis Berklee Jam is an innovative combination of concert performance, jam session, and classroom interaction. The program brings up-and-coming jazz groups to Boston for performances and jam sessions with Berklee students, as well as master classes and clinics. The series is produced in partnership with Marsalis Music, the Cambridge-based record label founded by Berklee alumnus Branford Marsalis.

The special guest for the latest Marsalis Berklee Jams is Fly, a highly regarded trio whose second record, Sky & Country, will be released by ECM in April 2009. On April 15 and 16, Fly will perform a short set, followed by a jam session open to all Berklee students.

The concerts and jam sessions are open to the public at Berklee's Cafe 939 (939 Boylston Street). Doors open at 8:00 p.m., and tickets are $10. Shows at Cafe 939 are all-ages. For show information, call 617 923-8487 or visit berklee.edu/events. For information about Cafe 939, visit cafe939.com.

Fly features Berklee alum Mark Turner on tenor and soprano saxophones, Larry Grenadier on double bass, and Jeff Ballard on drums. The trio, which Ballard called "an intimate band with teeth," overturns expectations of its specific instrumentation. Modern jazz history is not short on highly charged sax/bass/drums trios—including those of Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, and Sam Rivers—but Fly has a different flavor. Equal rights for all instruments is one goal. The saxophone seeks parity with bass and drums, and its refusal to fill all the space with sound brings another set of tensions into play.

As writer Nate Chinen observed in a JazzTimes article, "This is music that that expands and contracts, effortlessly and dramatically, and that balances the cerebral components of group improvisation with the more gut-level element of groove."

Or as Brad Meldau, who works regularly with Grenadier and Ballard in his own trio, said: "Fly brings together elements in their playing that are often at odds with each other: On the one hand their music can be intellectually challenging—their compositions in particular can be rhythmically and harmonically dense. In spite of that, their music makes a strong emotional impact, felt through the deep rhythmic groove and the organic way that these three musicians tell a story together."

Branford Marsalis conceived of Marsalis Jams as an initiative to provide meaningful interaction between established musical ensembles and dedicated student musicians at the high school and college levels. These consist of mini-residencies that include classroom interaction and culminate in performance/jam sessions where the visiting band follows an opening set of its own music by inviting student musicians on stage to play.

Marsalis Jams provides a rare opportunity for students to play with working groups, and opens a window into the creative process for members of the audience. Since 2003, the program has been successfully presented in colleges and high schools in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Texas.

This is the third Marsalis Berklee Jam, following programs in 2008 with the Miguel Zenón Quartet and Sean Jones.