By: Geraldine Wyckoff, Contributing Writer
The Louisiana Weekly
Monday, August 23, 2010
Intellectually, we are, of course, aware that the Marsalis family is chocked full of hugely talented musicians. Nonetheless, when the emcee of this concert introduces each one of them by name — saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo, drummer/vibest Jason (in their birth order) and finally patriarch “maestro” Ellis Marsalis, one can’t help but marvel. Later, photographer/writer Ellis Marsalis III adds his voice to the mix.
The performance that is captured live on Music Redeems (Marsalis Music) took place last year at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center to honor Ellis as the recipient of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The only previous time the entire family recorded a live album together was for 2003’s release, The Marsalis Family — A Jazz Celebration.
One can expect some warm, cozy moments from a gathering such as this though with the Marsalis clan, the music comes first. The ensemble, including Branford’s longtime bassist Eric Revis, jumps right into it on saxophonist Charlie Parker’s speedy, yet swinging, classic “Donna Lee.” Jason wows the crowd by whistling an inspired solo and goes head to head trading bars with Wynton’s trumpet. Like the Energizer bunny, Jason keeps going and going. This ain’t foolin’ around.
There are several, short interludes during which Wynton and Branford, as well as guest pianist Harry Connick Jr., talk about Ellis — those warm fuzzy spots previously mentioned. It’s doubtful that folks will find them intrusive as they merely set the scene of this special night.
Jason moves over to the vibes and Herlin Riley, who worked with Wynton for many years, takes over the trap set on drummer James Black’s composition, “Monkey Puzzle.” The song was first recorded as the title cut on the Ellis Marsalis Quartet early 1960s AFO album and stands a signature piece on the pianist’s sets. With its bright sway and edginess, it’s never shown signs of age.
Perhaps in a reflective mood, Ellis returns to the Monkey Puzzle album to perform his composition, “After,” this time as a solo expression. The band gets swinging again on another classic from the pianist, “Syndrome.” It’s so wonderfully familiar through rarely heard with Wynton’s singular trumpet sound.
Granted, “Sweet Georgia Brown” can’t help but come off as old fashioned though piano connoisseurs and those with good spirit will appreciate Connick and Ellis dueting on dueling, or perhaps dancing, pianos. After a bow to the great composer/pianist Thelonious Monk on “Teo,” on which Ellis and Branford give it the works, the group takes it out with a second line feel. Jason’s buckjumping anthem “At the House in Da Pocket” with Branford, Wynton and Delfeayo skillfully manning the frontline. The ensemble then heads to the traditional crowd-pleaser, “The 2nd Line.” Unfortunately, the obviously non-New Orleans audience can’t really clap to the beat.
As one might expect, Music Redeems doesn’t break any new ground. It relies instead on the basics — great compositions played by great players. It’s a family affair — a New Orleans affair – but more because it, like jazz, is of the sweet moment.