On a stormy February evening, I decided to catch the last of the two shows held by the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet coming off the heels on releasing their debut CD, “In a World Of Mallets”. Known as a drummer and the youngest of the famed Marsalis clan, Jason Marsalis showed himself through his quartet as an inventive, creative vibraphone stylist and composer in the likes of Gary Burton, Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson.
Through the two opening compositions, “Blues Can Be Abstract Too” and “Ballet Class”, Jason Marsalis illustrates the importance of knowing and respecting the roots of jazz music and referring these roots to create fresh new expressions in jazz. “Blues Can Be Abstract Too” is a straight swinging blues number with a head passage that does not follow the conventional blues structure to keep it fresh and on the listener’s toes. “Ballet Class” is his homage and respect to the classical tradition, even evoking essences of an Astor Piazzola tango groove into the piece and interpolating the melody of chopsticks during a solo passage. In the opening remarks, Jason stated that “classical music has rhythm”, and he proved that with his group performing an exciting piece.
After a mellow ballad feature on the piece “Characters” (featuring a moving bass solo by Will Goble), Jason and the quartet get back into the blues on another blues number, “Blues for the 29%er”. What is amazing about this piece is that the rhythm section, consisting of pianist Austin Johnson (who provides an intense solo here), bassist Will Goble and drummer David Potter, employ the stop-and-go rhythm effects made popular by the 60’s Miles Davis Quintet. They would play fast, slow down, and play around with the time, making it another unconventional yet fresh way to play a blues number.
The quartet took a break from the original repertoire and instead played two songs paying respect and homage to the quintessential vibraphone quartet, the Modern Jazz Quartet. Using the Modern Jazz Quartet’s arrangement of the standard “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise”, they would swing and do a straightforward interpretation of the tune before breaking into a funk interlude and a drum solo by Dave Potter. After the drum solo, it is back to the high octane bebop for a lesser known John Lewis composition, “Travellin’”. Even in the “Travellin” piece the rhythm section echoes another well known rhythm section, the rhythm section of the John Coltrane Quartet.
Closing the set is a ballad paying homage to Jason Marsalis’ hometown, simply called “New Orleans”. It is a very emotional, pensive, and mellow way to close a set of cool jazz.
Overall, it was a great night of straight ahead, swinging jazz from start to finish. I even managed to have a long conversation with Jason Marsalis during the break and he was very knowledgeable and serious about preserving musical traditions and not throwing them out the window for the sake of innovation, which I respect. Not only he was serious but he was fun to talk to at the same time. When he comes back in town, be sure to check out this new quartet whenever you can.
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