Delfeayo Marsalis, Kalamazoo CD Review.

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Delfeayo Marsalis has released ‘Kalamazoo’ (An Evening With Delfeayo Marsalis), his first live recorded CD on Troubador Jazz Records. For such an established musician, composer and educator who has produced over 100 jazz CDs and released 7 as leader it may seem this has been a long time coming. I asked Delfaeyo why now and how he sees live recordings as important. He commented, “Throughout the years, I haven’t consistently led a small group, which is required for creating a meaningful live recording. What makes ‘Kalamazoo’ special is that we had no plans to release a CD, so we weren’t self-conscious or trying to micro-manage the performance.

A great live recording provides the listener with an accurate representation of who the performers are individually and collectively. There is a unique magic in ‘Kalamazoo’ that can’t happen in a studio without the audience participation. Different artists create their definitive live recordings at different points in their career. For example, my brother Branford (saxophone player) was 31 when he recorded Bloomington. Wynton (trumpet player) was 42 when he was finally captured on Live at the House of Tribes. This is my equivalent to those recordings; it gives the listener a true understanding of who I am, how my shows are structured.”

On this album Delfeayo is accompanied by his father Ellis Marsalis Jr. on piano, Reginald Veal (an ex-student of Ellis’s) on bass and drummer Ralph Peterson (James Brown, Earth,Wind and Fire, Fo’tet). The recording was made at a one-off performance in Michigan and captures the essence of a great atmosphere, complete with banter, off-side comments and the odd impromptu musical interlude. The recording captures the camaraderie of the performers, alongside the clear embarrassment at one point of some students, who Delfaeyo plucks from the audience to perform. Delfeayo masterfully controls both the performance and the audience. The fact this particular combination of musicians had not played together before adds to the improvisational aspects and spontaneity. Whilst Kalamazoo cannot encapsulate the range of Delfeayo’s performaing, which ranges from big band protest (‘Let’s Make America Great Again’), to more exploitative and modern jazz (‘Pontius Pilate’s Decision’) to his version of Ellington’s Shakespearean tribute (‘Sweet Thunder’) , it does reveal more of his personality as he takes the audience and listener from one feel and vibe to another in quick succession, from swing, to blues to rock, swing and varied jazz references.

The CD opens with Mares/Pollack/Stitzel/Brunies and Roppolo’s ‘Tin Roof Blues’ and this is played, slow and easy, to a clearly captivated audience judging from the tremendous applause. A gorgeous piano solo is included and right through the bass and drums are solid. The engaging ralph Peterson makes the drums talk as he offers a range of varying rhythmic changes. The bass solo and the bluesey trombone add weight and emphasis to this opening track. It is followed by Kosma’s ‘Autumn Leaves’ which is delivered with inevitable twists and gems interspersed. Delfeayo soars on trombone and the middle improvising section is lovely. An emotive delivery of Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Funny Valentine’ follows and here the trombone is used to create atmosphere and a tangible change of mood, working with the piano to create a play on the original music whilst simultaneously respecting the beauty of the song.

The opening theme from ‘Sesame’ Street’ is then introduced by Delfeayo stating it is, “something he has heard for years but is actually a blues”. The audience take a few moments to realise the familiarity of the number before a ripple of appreciation and recognition is heard. And it is a blues – written by Jo Raposo.

Loesser’s ‘If I were a Bell’ is a vehicle for Ellis to shine and he does with a swing based interpretation of the number from Guys and Dolls. There is a lovely section with a wonderful bass solo under which the drums thud out the rhythm. The voice of Veal can be heard accompanying his bass playing and this adds to the essence of the solo.

‘The Secret Love Affair’ by Delfeayo Marsalis borrowed from an earlier album, is a lovely number and worked well by the quartet and is followed by Ellington’s ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing’. The standard is given the Marsalis treatment and is delivered with energy and respect for the original arrangement. The audience completely love it and show their appreciation by joining in with jubilant hand clapping. The drums are wonderful with exquisite timing and emphasis. The beautiful trombone playing gives way to a great drum solo. The number is very enjoyable.

‘Introducing The Blues’ is a bit of fun where Delfeayo extracts two University of Michigan students who he has invited to be in the audience, vocalist Christian O’Neill Diaz, the other drummer Madison George who takes the place of Peterson for the number. Delfaeyo asks Christian if he normally sings big band style, to which the answer is ‘yes’. Delfeayo tells him, ‘we don’t do that but can you scat?’ It turns out he can – sort of. Marsalis then asks him which key he prefers, Diaz tells him F or B flat – Marsalis tells him they don’t want to play in those keys and offers him D flat. ‘Blue Kalamazoo’ follows, a number improvised in the moment featuring Christian and Madison George. They make a great impression on the audience, though for them it possibly was not that comfortable. Of the baptism of fire for the students, Delfeayo comments, “Part of maturing is being able to not only assist, but to also challenge the younger generation….If we had performed a song that Christian sings all the time, he would have probably sung in auto- pilot mode. Creating a song together spontaneously forces you to reach deep inside and stay committed to the moment. It’s an African tradition”.

‘Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?’, an Eddie Delange/Louis Altars composition finishes the recording and this allows every musician to shine.

This is a fun, lively and very interesting recording and offers another part of the Delfeayo Marsalis character in his music. I asked him how he feels about the current music scene and young people in particular. He comments, “What can jazz musicians learn from pop artists? Everything! Great jazz musicians used to entertain their audiences. I don’t mean just singing or dancing. Because they were often on the same bill as other artists (comedians, dancers, etc), their music had more of a social function. Today we find that the soulfulness of rap has permeated all forms of popular music, even country and western. While rap doesn’t lend itself to anything original in jazz by itself, the musicians need to embrace the African rhythms that people all around the world have loved since they were first introduced. Armstrong, Parker, Coltrane, Basie and many more had it. We can’t abandon what is fundamentally great about American music in search of something new. The true genius will find originality and soul inside of our great cultural, not outside of it.”

This album offers just a small insight to the character of Delfeayo Marsalis but he is a man of many talents from being the author of 18 childrens’ plays and writer of the award winning childrens’ book ‘No Cell Phone Day’ to producing and recording regularly. Of the future he comments, “I plan to release CDs with UJO and a quintet in 2018. I hope Branford is available, since he’s been featured on all of my CDs except one. Other than that, I never know who might be featured. That’s both a benefit and a challenge of not having a working group. Earlier in my career, I stopped recording after a dispute with RCA about sidemen (they wanted my brothers or else, so I chose or else), so the time is ripe now for me to create masterpieces I’ve thought about for many years!

Track Listing:
Tin Roof Blues; Autumn Leaves; My Funny Valentine; Sesame Street Theme; If I Were A Bell; The Secret Love Affair; It Don’t Mean A Thing; Introducing The Blues; Blue Kalamazoo; Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?.

Delfeayo Marsalis: trombone; Ellis Marsalis, Jr.: piano; Reginald Veal: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums.

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Last modified: July 15, 2018