Thursday, November 23, 2017

Delfeayo Marsalis has a pal (or two) in Kalamazoo

Delfeayo Marsalis is the third-best-known Marsalis brother, and that seems a
Paisley on steroids: Sharp dresser Delfeayo Marsalis
distinction worth having. As he and his first-rate siblings settle comfortably into middle age, they still benefit from the early tutelage they received from their father, Ellis, who has frequently joined them onstage and for recordings.

In "Kalamazoo," (Troubadour Jass Records), we get to hear what happened when the trombonist-bandleader, now 52, took his quartet to Western Michigan University for a concert in April 2015. Besides his dad on piano, he brought along bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Ralph Peterson. In the course of the concert, Marsalis has a couple of WMU jazz students sit in on an original blues, "Blue Kalamazoo" — vocalist Christian Diaz and drummer Madison George. The comfort level is high.

It's an ingratiating set, full of well-known pieces, except for that localized blues and Delf's "The Secret Love Affair," a midtempo work to a Latin pulse that leaves a pastel impression. The standards include one that's standard only in the ears of the nation, not on the jazz bandstand: the "Sesame Street" theme.

For that, Marsalis mutes his trombone and growls in his solo. Elsewhere, he's featured on open horn, where he is equally clever. For the children's TV show theme, Peterson supplements his attack by striking tiny cymbals, and the quartet frolics along, right through the whimsical coda. 

Ellis quotes "It Ain't Necessarily So," and seems to have had little restraint in indulging the habit that evening. The peak comes during his solo on "It Don't Mean a Thing," when we hear bits of "Joshua Fit De Battle," "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby," "Blue Skies" and "Swinging on a Star." I like the senior Marsalis' straightforward, old-fashioned style, but the quote machine overheats now and then.

The pianist gets a nice feature on "If I Were a Bell" as his son sits out. Of course, in this case, starting out by evoking the Westminster chimes is pertinent. The track is notable as well for a splendid bowed Veal solo, accompanied by the bassist's vocal at the unison in the manner of  Slam Stewart. 

Peterson does imaginative work throughout. He lends extra perkiness to a slow, nearly 10-minute version of "Tin Roof Blues." That's not to say the performance would otherwise have been boring. The rapport between Ellis and Delfeayo is particularly fine here. The trombonist (whose first name is accented on the second syllable on his website, on the first by his publicist) treats himself to a couple of quotes ("Willow Weep for Me," and "Mona Lisa") in an exemplary solo. Ellis juxtaposes both leaping and smoothly melodic phrases during his turn in the spotlight.

Peterson does some fine work on brushes behind Ellis on "My Funny Valentine" and "Autumn Leaves." Veal's exchanges with Peterson smartly set up a good drum solo in the latter number. 

The set ends with loving treatment of a song that will probably always carry a deep meaning for the stellar Crescent City family: "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?"  

'Deed they do.


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