Marsalis, Plunging Into The Blues

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has explored various facets of blues music on several recent albums, but Tuesday night at Blues Alley he briefly played host to a true master of the form: Joe Williams.

After spotting Williams in the audience, Marsalis invited the singer, who turns 73 today, to join his sextet onstage. Happy to oblige, Williams eased elegantly into a salty 12-bar blues before yielding to a string of solos, including a growling, near-vocal and entirely empathetic chorus by Marsalis on plunger and trumpet. After Williams returned to his table, the band saluted him with a cleverly arranged birthday salute and performed an engaging version of “Winter Wonderland” that found the former Count Basie vocalist smiling broadly and humming along.

Throughout the evening, Marsalis performed a mixture of blues, ballads, bop tunes and original pieces, emphasizing tone over technique. Among the more lyrical and subtle highlights were his seductive reading of “When It’s Sleepytime Down South,” with its faint, closing allusion to “Dixie”; a tempo-shifting “Bye Bye Blackbird,” beautifully enhanced by pianist Marcus Roberts’s cascading improvisation and bassist Reginald Veal’s expressive bowing; and a now pensive, now expansive rendition of “Embraceable You.” By contrast, the up-tempo tunes were often vigorously powered by drummer Herlin Riley and Marsalis’s promising front-line mates, saxophonists Herb Harris and Wes Anderson.

The engagement runs through Sunday.

by Mike Joyce
Source: The Washington Post

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