"The time is right, says Delfeayo Marsalis, third youngest of the renowned and prodigious jazz family from New Orleans, speaking with confidence. "There aren't that many bands out there playing like my band. ... It's my time.
Marsalis has been on the jazz scene for a long time. He may have more notoriety due to his very successful tenure as a record producer. But he's been out there playing the trombone in various aggregations including a notable tenure with drumming icon Elvin Jones. He's had his own band through the years, but it seemed to get lostsidetracked anywayin the various things Marsalis had going on.
What Marsalis refers to is that he wants to push forward as the leader of his own band now. At age 41, his playing, always good, has grown and matured as he has. His clear, precise attack and big tone has become a formidable voice on his instrument. As he's forging that sound, he is also attempting to forge a band with its own identifiable sound. The time has come for those two things, he feels.
Hand in hand with this effort is the release, in September, of his latest recording, Minions Dominion (Troubadour Jazz, 2006). It's a strong effort, in the mainstream, alive and inventive. The band playing the music isn't the one he's touring with, but the musicians are superb and the sound is hip. It's delivered with fire and passion by the likes of fiery alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, brother Branford on tenor, pianist extraordinaire Mulgrew Miller, and bassists Robert Hurst III, Edwin Livingston and Eric Revis. The drummer, and one of the keys to the feel and excitement of the recording, is the rhythm machine, Elvin Jones.
"About 10 years ago, there were many more bands playing in a style similar to my band. But today, some of the stuff that's out there, it makes you wonder what jazz is anymore, says Marsalis, sounding somewhat like his brother Wynton. "There's a lot of different things and from the European discipline. When people hear my band, they're going to hear music that's from the American tradition. Music that swings.
Ethnic, world music and other influencesare fine. Nothing wrong with variation and different things. But my band doesn't play like that. People still need to hear it. People still need to hear that swing.
Five of the seven compositions are by the trombonist, and swing it does. Right out of the gate with the opener "Brer Rabbit, the band kicks into to get people's heads nodding and feet tapping. It has almost a Basie feel, with leader taking the first solo with bold assurance and a strong fat tone. Donald Harrison is soulful and driving and Jones is his wonderful self, multi rhythms, strong, yet flexible with a looseness that is hard to explain. It doesn't matter. It's felt.
All perform well on the disk, inventive and creative, and there are great solos throughout by each of the featured players who are growing giants in their own right. And when it's time to slow down, Marsalis shows his soft side, putting forth "If You Only Knew with precise articulation and a round, rich ballad tone. Branford also shows his underrated creativity and feel for a melody, and Delfeayo returns with a muted 'bone statement. Sweet stuff.
Recorded in February 2003, it's his third solo CD and he's rightfully proud of it, especially with the inclusion of Jones. For the drummer, it was his second to last recording session, the final one being with his brother/pianist Hank Jones, a session that produced three discs (Autumn Leaves (441, 2003), Someday My Prince Will Come (Columbia, 2004) and Collaboration (441, 2005). A bonus track for the latter was recorded not long before Elvin died, according to 441 Records). Minions Dominions, in a way, is a tribute to Elvin.
"That's only fair, to go out with family, Marsalis says fondly. "But on my record, with the horns and stuff, you hear the whole breadth and depth of Elvin. There's more going on. Elvin plays with so much heart. I wanted people to hear the soul of the man, not just the music. He plays like the kind of person he was. People need to hear him. He's such an important part of history, especially musical history.
Marsalis played with Jones for about six years, running over the course of a ten-year span. It was also the first time Jones recorded with Branford or Donald Harrison. Marsalis says the reason for the delay in putting out the recording was that he was busy finishing up his master's degree in jazz performance at the University of Louisville between recording and this year's release. "I wanted to make sure it was right, he says. "I wanted it to right for Elvin, so he did not rush the process.
The trombonist was planning to have a video of the recording session posted on his website. "That will be important for students to see. Elvin was such a big part of music history. They can see the way he plays, the way he's all over it. But also see the spirit of the man and the joy that he plays with.