The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet.
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THE 21ST CENTURY TRAD BAND
Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet (Basin Street Records)
Forget the fact there aren't that many truly great vibe players out there and that Jason Marsalis, even at age 37, is still the young pup of the famous Marsalis musical family that includes his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis, and brothers Wynton (trumpet), Branford (sax), and Delfeayo (trombone) Marsalis. This is simply an outstanding, kick-ass jazz album by any standard, a collection of brilliant arrangements and musicianship by a modern jazz quartet that not only hangs together, but seeks new adventures in a free-form, yet cohesive manner.
Jason's solos on vibraphone are something to behold, in part because of how effortlessly they blend traditional and modern styles into something that's both familiar and fresh. Is he in a class of his own? Quite possibly. This album is every bit as good as Jason's 2013 breakthrough, In a World of Mallets, the first CD he recorded with his Vibes Quartet and a disc that hit No. 1 on the JazzWeek radio charts. As writer Geraldine Wyckoff points out in the November issue of OffBeat magazine, one of the nation's best for regional music: "He's a constant student with an eager curiosity to absorb all there is to know about the music and particularly about jazz musicians who came before, Marsalis is quite emphatic when it comes to the importance of looking back to the masters in order to really play jazz as it should be played. He frowns a bit on those artists who don't do their homework."
That's the thing about this album: It's not totally New Orleans, it's not totally traditional jazz, and it's not totally modern jazz — but it's each of those in a small way and none completely. It's highly inventive, introspective, fun and original, but also with a solid foundation. As with past efforts, Marsalis, who grew up playing drums, also plays marimba, glockenspiel, tubular bells, and xylophone. Included is a song called “BP Shakedown,” an instrumental protest song in reference to BP's 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
— TOM HENRY,The Blade
RADIO FREE HONDURAS
Radio Free Honduras (radiofreehonduras.com)
Charlie Baran’s new disc, Radio Free Honduras, is great Latino music — just try not moving to it — with some Toledo connections.
Honduran-born Baran (given names Carlos Barahona; by day he’s the maintenance man at a Catholic grade school in Chicago), is a triple threat: songwriter, singer (in Spanish), musician. His guitar runs are jet-propelled roller coasters, and his mid-tempo and romantic melodies are beautiful melodies.
Radio Free Honduras is a fluid band employing on up to 15 skilled Chicago musicians as needed for various configurations. Here, Baran is joined by six others on percussion and drums, trumpet, bass, guitars, and supporting vocals. Guests chime in on some tracks playing harmonica (it works), flute, bandoneon (concertina), and there’s a few additional vocalists, such as mellow baritone, Brazilian Paulinho Garcia.
The sole English tune is “Forever and Ever,” a happy love song that at first seems oddly placed, but less so when one imagines this duo dropping in at a Radio Free Honduras show and being asked to come onstage and sing something. It’s the Birds of Chicago — JT Nero (former Toledoan Jeremy Lindsay and member of the band JT and the Clouds) and Allison Russell, who has a voice as strong as it’s sweet and an ability to slide into harmonies that seems as effortless as breathing.
Baran wrote the other 11 tracks, crafting irresistible Cuban-style dance (“Vengan Vengan”), playful (“Picale Picale”), bouncy rock (“Otra Cerveza”), and romantic (“Cancion de Amor”) songs.
The dozen cuts were beautifully arranged and produced by Toledo native/current Chicagoan Dan Abu-Absi, who plays guitars and mandolin in the band and manages it.
The group played at the Midwest Latino Fest at Promenade Park in August and were so liked they were booked for the 2015 fest.
— TAHREE LANE, The Blade
A NEW ORLEANS CREOLE CHRISTMAS
Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse (Basin Street Records)
Chill this holiday season with some soulful, soothing, and foot-stomping creole jazz interpretations of Christmas classics by one of New Orleans' finest trumpeters, Grammy winner Irvin Mayfield.
The Dixie-soaked, saucy romp begins with a veritable street parade of “O Tannenbaum,” aka “O Christmas Tree,” followed by a melodic version of “Silent NIght” that's slow-tempo, but far from maudlin or melancholy and augmented by a few trumpet wah-wahs. The eight-song set contains a vocal and instrumental version of the same song, “Christmas Time is Here,” a familiar tune to devotees of the annual Peanuts Christmas television special that's aired for decades, but the two takes are both cool in their own right and differ enough stylistically so as not to sound too redundant.
This is Mayfield's first album of holiday music and, for as many of them that other artists have produced, it is a worthy contribution.
— TOM HENRY
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