Author: Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor
Date: Thursday, 26 August 2010
When pianist/patriarch Ellis Marsalis retired from the faculty of the University of New Orleans in 2001, the school established a chair in his honor in the School of Music; the celebration concert was released as The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration (2003, Marsalis Music). Last year (2009), The Duke Ellington Jazz Festival in Washington, DC, presented Ellis Marsalis with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Another reason for a family celebration, the clan came together again, now released on Marsalis Music as Music Redeems. In addition to Ellis, the recording includes Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason, with support from bassist Eric Reavis and drummer Herlin Riley, guest Harry Connick, Jr., and brother Ellis III reciting an original poem.
Adding to the energy of the music is the cause the recording supports: All proceeds from sales will benefit the new Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, the practice, teaching, recording and performing space under construction in the heart of the New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village, a community center initiated by Branford and Connick following Hurricane Katrina for displaced area musicians.
The recorded portion of the tribute kicks off in celebratory mode with the family quintet roaring through “Donna Lee”, augmented by Jason’s agile whistling and trading bars with muted Wynton while Eric Reavis maintains a blistering walk. “Monkey Puzzle” was a piece the brothers recall playing early on, a swaying blues featuring Jason on vibes, with soulful solos from Branford and Ellis. Ellis goes it alone on his “After,” a composition that is bright and elegant, highlighting his melodic bent, inherent swing, and golden touch, undiminished at age 75. The horns sing out on Ellis’ “Syndrome,” harmonies delightfully out of register, Wynton joyful, Ellis giving it a bouncy swing. And what swings more than Ellis on “Sweet Georgia Brown?” Two piano—Ellis and Harry Connick, Jr. Together they partially deconstruct and otherwise add plenty of strut. Monk’s “Teo” gets a gleeful reading by the ensemble, Delfeayo stepping up with growly trombone solo punctuated heavily by Jason’s percussion. The music concludes with back-to-back tales of the Crescent City, from Jason (“At the House In Da Pocket”) and the traditional “Second Line,” the former spiced with licks from “Well You Needn’t” and Jason’s drum assault, the finale seemingly bringing the crowd to its feet in truly stompin’ New Orleans fashion.
Ellis III read his poem, “The Man and the Ocean,” written a few weeks before the concert about “that bright shining light.” (Creativity in the Marsalis family is not limited to music.) The recording also includes some comments from Wynton, Branford and Harry Connick, Jr., who describes the Musicians’ Village and plans for the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, noting, “There’s no better way to pass the tradition of New Orleans music on…”
There is no better way to introduce the depth of the tradition than Music Redeems.