|Jason Marsalis took care of business with his Goodman-inspired quartet.|
The 42-year-old vibraphonist (also known as a drummer through such connections as the Marcus Roberts Trio, heard at Clowes Hall in 2015) immediately paid tribute to the Benny Goodman combo of sainted memory in taking the stage.
Hallowed names of Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa were invoked to refurbish memory lane at the start. With Joe Goldberg on clarinet, Kris Tokarski on piano, and Gerald T. Watkins on drums, Marsalis resurrected "After You've Gone" and "Sweet Sue, Just You" flawlessly to open the show.
Spiffy coordination, a wealth of improvisatory ideas, and flashiness linked to a heart-tug or two ruled the performances in the manner of the model quartet of the late 1930s. Using soft mallets in "Sweet Sue," Marsalis distantly evoked the Guy Lombardo version of the song. Watkins' ricky-ticking on rims behind Tokarski's solo was just this side of corny. But it was the best kind of touchstoning.
The adroitness of the players was exhibited in "I Surrender, Dear," another evergreen, with lots of smoothly traded solo spotlights in different parts of the song, "A" section to bridge and back again. At the end, a florid unaccompanied cadenza by the leader confirmed his expert manner of sounding straightforward and flamboyant at the same time.
Newer tunes stretched the musical boundaries somewhat, though brother Wynton's "School Boy" and Jason's own "The Virtue of Patience" reached comfortably back to older styles, with two-beat swing occupying the foreground. The latter piece was a salute to Thelonious Monk, the bandleader informed the audience — a tune that started to work best in that capacity when he found a slower tempo for it. Sashaying harmonies linked the melody to the Monk idiom as the piece loped along.
Another innovative master, Ornette Coleman, received honor in the quartet's treatment of "Tomorrow Is the Question," with the skipping insouciance of the original well replicated. A more eccentric innovator, largely untouched by fame, was brought forward as the quartet threaded its skillfully pointillistic way through fellow New Orleansian Rick Trolsen's "Blues for Man's Extinction." Marsalis' two solos — one with two mallets, the second with four — were outstanding.
The old Bobby Hebb song "Sunny" was notable for Goldberg's low-register solo, and its succession of key changes was patterned smoothly on the original. The four-to-the-bar moderate swing tempo was of course second nature to this elegant group. And among many signs of the band's compatibility, there was superb interaction between Goldberg and Marsalis in Bill Bruford's "Either End of August."
Reaching back at the end to ancient Dixieland (though that term is somewhat in disfavor among "trad"-oriented musicians), the quartet played a hearty, well-knit version of "That's a Plenty," which hails from ragtime and the march genre in its succession of "strains." I marveled at the way Marsalis draped rhythmically contrasting phrases over the infectious beat in his solo. But there were marvels all around in the course of this memorable engagement.
[Photo by Rob Ambrose]