For the past decade, the Branford Marsalis Quartet has been one of the best working jazz bands on the planet. The tightness of that unit is reflected in this duo recording from saxophonist Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo. Songs of Mirth and Melancholy starts with a jaunty blues from Calderazzo’s pen, “One Way,” that has a relaxed, fun feel to it. However, much of the remainder of the record is more contemplative; there are a lot of slow-tempo numbers that allow the listener to appreciate the beauty of the melodies and tones of the instruments. In that way, the album almost seems like an extension of the Quartet’s 2004 record of ballads, Eternal. Most of the pieces have a classical feel if they’re not actual classical compositions. Their performance of Brahms’ “Die Trauernde” is a brief, deliberate statement that fits in with the mournful lilt of “La Valse Kendall” and the emotional subtleties of “La Bard Lachrymose.”
“Endymion” starts with the two playing together with Calderazzo double-timing Marsalis’ pace before Marsalis drops out and Calderazzo continues building his solo until Marsalis comes back. The tracks share this building motif with one of the highlights of the record, “Hope.” “Hope” starts out in the contemplative mode and grows to a powerful climax with Marsalis playing the upper range of his soprano before a brief coda that echoes the beginning. The tune rewards the listener each time it is played, as does most of the album. There is a great depth of feeling on this entire CD that other jazz contemporaries would have a difficult time matching.