The Marsalis Family: Music Redeems

stars:
RIYL: John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Harry Connick Jr.

The first family of New Orleans jazz gathered for a special concert last year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and thank goodness they recorded it for release. There is far too little collaboration in this clan – patriarch Ellis on piano, Wynton on trumpet, Branford on sax, Delfeayo on trombone and youngest brother Jason on drums. They’re all world-renowned musicians and hearing them together is something special. This CD also makes a great gift for any jazz fan – it’s a historic gathering of the Marsalis clan, including stories and anecdotes about growing up in New Orleans. The proceeds also go to educational programming at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, “the heart of the New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village.” The project was conceived in 2005 by Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr. (who also guests in this performance) in partnership with New Orleans Habitat for Humanity following Hurricane Katrina.

The band opens with Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee,” featuring an up-tempo walking bass line from the bassist Eric Revis, some dynamic whistling melodies from Jason and a great piano solo from Ellis.
Wynton and Branford both speak afterward about growing up, with Branford noting how Ellis’ breakthrough song “Monkey Puzzle” (written by James Black) was almost like a cartoon theme song to the kids. The classic song receives an eight-minute treatment, with great solos all around and some stellar work by Jason on the vibes.

A pair of Ellis-penned tunes follow. “After” is an elegant solo piano song, and then “Syndrome,” an old school piano-based tune that brings in the rest of the band with some smooth unison horn lines. Harry Connick Jr., then joins the ensemble for “Sweet Georgia Brown,” where sparks fly on sensational dueling pianos between Connick and Ellis. Another peak occurs with a reading of Thelonious Monk’s “Teo,” which oozes the jazzy jazz that comes from such great horn players. There’s also another superb piano solo, followed by a succession of stylish horn solos that are like a jazz playbook.

Ellis Marsalis III then delivers a poignant spoken word poem written just for the occasion to honor his father, “The Man and the Ocean.” A nearly 10-minute version of Jason’s “At the House in Da Pocket” follows and it’s a magic track, with the horns seeming to hold an animated conversation while the other instruments vamp out behind. The Marsalis family chemistry really starts flowing here and it’s only a shame that this track basically ends the set instead of setting the stage for more. But in classic New Orleans fashion, the group apparently exits through the audience playing a rousing version of the traditional song, “The 2nd Line.”

This entire performance will make you want to book travel to New Orleans at your nearest convenience. If you can’t make it in person, the next best thing may be streaming local radio station WWOZ, without a doubt one of the greatest and most diverse stations on the planet. (Marsalis Music 2010)

  

Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part V: it’s time to chill

The last in our five-part series, where the festival puts the ‘jazz’ in Jazzfest.

Delfayo Marsalis & the Uptown Jazz Orchestra, WWOZ Jazz Tent
I was the first one up after obtaining maybe five hours of sleep, and I quickly rushed back off to the fairgrounds. It would have been nice to get more sleep, but I didn’t want to miss Delfayo Marsalis. The skies were still overcast and threatening rain, and it misted throughout the day. But, in a great gift from the music gods, it didn’t actually rain until about 20 minutes after the end of the festival.

Delfayo_Marsalis_01

The tent was packed for this 1:35 pm set and rightfully so, as the trombone ace from New Orleans’ first family of jazz led a 15-piece horn section through a set of swinging jazz numbers with a classic and classy vibe. Younger brother Jason Marsalis played drums and the set featured one crowd-pleasing number after another, with round after round of applause. This was the best jazz set of the weekend in this reporter’s view.

Ellis Marsalis, WWOZ Jazz Tent
Pianist Ellis Marsalis followed his son’s group with his own quartet for another great set, again featuring Jason Marsalis on drums. The songs were a little more subdued than Delfayo’s set, but the playing continued to sparkle. Jason delivered a stellar drum solo during one tune that won a huge round of applause, while all the band members soloed with great skill on a superb reading of “My Favorite Things.” It’s too bad that Wynton and Branford couldn’t be summoned for an all-Marsalis family jam, but getting to see Delfayo and Ellis in succession with Jason was another great Jazzfest treat.

The Dead Weather, Gentilly Stage
Jack White led his new group on drums in a hot set before a big crowd in the mist at the Gentilly Stage. White is a snappy drummer and every project he’s involved in oozes the blues, but the Dead Weather mix that old school blues vibe with a heavy indie rock sound that is just plain tantalizing thanks to lead vocalist Allison Mosshart. The former singer of the Kills appeared as some sort of dark, avenging angel, and she captivated the crowd on every tune. The new “Hustle and Cuss” featured a groovy syncopation that went over well. The set peaked with “Treat Me Like Your Mother” from the band’s first album, a flat-out bad-ass rocker that saw the energy soar as Mosshart owned the stage. White also played guitar on one tune, treating fans to some of his bluesy shredding, before he and Mosshart sang a duet on a slow, dark simmering blues to end the set in haunting yet breathtaking fashion.


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