Marsalis and Co.‘s Mellow Feeling

Although trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for his jazz opera “Blood on the Fields,” is in greater demand than ever, he remains loyal to the small clubs that helped nurture his talent. That’s the good news. The bad news is his engagement at Blues Alley through Sunday night is sold out.

At the club’s late show on Tuesday, it was clear that Marsalis truly enjoys an intimate setting. Relaxed, witty and, despite a reputation to the contrary, extremely humble, he established an instant and warm rapport with the audience. Instead of lecturing the crowd on the merits of acoustic jazz, something he’s been known to do on occasion, he was philosophic about the music’s great demands and sometimes seemingly limited appeal.

“Somebody’s got to do it, so it might as well be us,” he joked. He also confessed to his own limitations as a player and listener, recalling how, as an “ignorant” youth, he was quick to put down John Coltrane’s performances on soprano sax. “I’m not sure that I knew it was a soprano sax,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief.

If Marsalis has mellowed as a spokesman for jazz, he’s also mellowed as a musician. His playing is more melodic, his use of space is more evident, and his ability to emulate vocal inflections on his horn is keener than ever. During the performance he didn’t pull out the assortment of mutes that have helped color his music in recent years. Yet he nevertheless managed to expressively manipulate his tone, particularly on the ballads and blues.

Even so, two of the most engaging pieces his quintet performed — the waddling melody “Loose Duck” and the festive samba “Marciac Fun” — were lighthearted tunes inspired by Marsalis’s annual performances at a jazz festival in France. The latter piece was briskly propelled by the bandleader’s younger brother, drummer Jason Marsalis, and enlivened by saxophonist Walter Blanding Jr., whose tone and attack recalled Sonny Rollins’s joyful approach to calypsos. On its way to a standing ovation, the quintet also performed other pieces that revealed bassist Rodney Whitaker’s soulful touch and pianist Marcus Roberts’s generation-spanning vocabulary.

by Mike Joyce
Source: The Washington Post

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