March 4, 2013
There are few families who have had quite the same impact on jazz – hell, on modern music over the course of the past 60 years or so than the venerable New Orleans-based Marsalis family. Ellis Marsalis, Jr. is a renowned pianist and composer, who in his late 70s still performs a regular Friday night gig at the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro. When the patriarch of this great musical family was a young man, he was one of the few New Orleans-based jazz musicians who specialized in modern jazz, playing alongside the likes of Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley and others. And as a music professor has taught Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard and others.
His eldest son Branford, is a saxophonist who has continually reinvented and has developed a reputation for restless creativity by playing alongside the likes of Sting, a disastrous stint as Jay Leno’s bandleader, and a forward-thinking experimental approach. Wynton is a trumpeter, who now as the head of Jazz at Lincoln Center has dedicated his life to preserving and teaching jazz history. Delfeayo is a renowned trombonist and baby brother, Jason has started to develop a reputation as a vibraphonist and composer himself.
I caught the young Jason – his 36th birthday was actually on the date of the show – as he was touring to support his quartet’s latest effort, In a World of Mallets. And although most of the material of the set comprised of new material that will appear on a forthcoming new album, there’s one thing that’s consistent with Jason Marsalis’ work – it’s has the sort of whimsical, quirky quality that one would expect to hear as the soundtrack of an old comedy or in the dream sequence of a sitcom. in fact, one song which was titled something along the lines of “The Man with Two Left Feet,” playfully mimicked the off-kilter rhythm of some poor bastard who was trying to dance but couldn’t figure out even the most simplest rhythm and began to trip and fall over himself/everyone else in the room. The set opener was a song about being one’s quirky, irrelevant self at all costs. The slower tempo songs owed a debt to Kind of Blue-era Miles Davis, in the sense that they were written in the cool, modal style. A song inspired by Marsalis time in Brooklyn, titled “A Night in Brooklyn,” in fact, reminded quite a bit of “All Blues” and “Flamenco Sketches.” “Closing Credits” made me laugh because it actually did sound like the sort of composition you’d hear in a Woody Allen-type comedy.
I should mention that a band being lead by a vibraphonist is incredibly unusual and doesn’t happen often – and I bet that most jazz fans couldn’t tell you of a band lead by a vibraphonist in the past 50 years or so. But the band was incredibly tight. Alternating between playing with four mallets and using his hands and two mallets, Marsalis’ vibraphone had a beautiful tone – at times the instrument chimed like a bell. Allowing for each member to show off their chops, I think I was most impressed by his bassist who had a solo reminiscent of the great Charles Mingus. Marsalis’ pianist played with an effortless, super lad back coolness, same with his drummer. It was an impressive night, for sure.
For these photos and a few more from this set of great jazz, check out the Flickr set here: