“Music is always in motion,” states Jason Marsalis, and whenever he’s behind the drum kit, the music moves with graceful swing and crackling intensity, hurtling away from the familiar into fresh, exciting territory, like a bullet train headed from New Orleans to Chicago and on to destinations unknown.
Music in Motion, Marsalis’ second recording as a leader/composer, portrays this express journey from the past and the present to the future of jazz. The fuel? High-grade, premium rhythm, of course, supplied not only by the twenty-three year old drummer, but also by his team of young engineers: John Ellis (tenor sax), Derek Douget (alto & soprano sax), Jonathan Lefcoski (piano) and Peter Harris (bass). This record taps into the rhythmic potential of all these instruments, as well as new compositional avenues created by incorporating unusual rhythms into the jazz idiom, which keeps the music chugging briskly through seventy-four minutes of sinuous original material.
The track “Maracatu de Modernizar,” for example, is “based upon a northeastern Brazilian dance rhythm put inot a modern jazz context,” says Marsalis. Similarly, the track “Seven-Ay Pocky Way” utilizes a New Orleans second-line groove in 7/4 time, but Marsalis makes a distinction between two types of second-line music: “The traditional style, composed and performed by Paul Barbarin, Jelly Roll Morton, Baby Dodds, and Louis Armstrong, and the funk based second-line of the Mardi Gras Indians, the Wild Magnolias, the Meters, and so forth. ‘Seven-Ay’ is straight out of the Wild Magnolias tradition.”
Tradition, of course, is something Marsalis understands deeply. Not only is he a part of the famous New Orleans jazz tradition, which has created innumerable legendary drummers, such as Warren “Baby” Dodds, Ed Blackwell, James Black and Herlin Riley, he belongs to a renowned musical family; his father Ellis and older brothers Wynton, Branford, and Delfeayo have dramatically influenced the jazz world for almost two decades.
Jason is no exception, possessing the technical virtuosity, innate rhythmic aplomb and the compositional ingenuity associated with his forbearers. But deep roots haven’t prevented him from also developing a refreshingly progressive approach, fueled by eclectic influences (he’s just a likely to reference Igor Stravinsky, Tito Puente and Billy Cobham as Max Roach and Art Blakey) and diverse professional associations in his native New Orleans.
In the last several years, besides studying classical percussion at Loyola University, he’s worked as a sideman in contexts ranging from his father’s modern trio and other local straight-ahead combos to funk fusion bands, a Brazilian percussion ensemble, and even a Celtic group. He’s also joined acclaimed pianist Marcus Roberts’ trio, a partnership fostering creative growth in Marsalis which Roberts recently described as a “spectacular…He’s shaped his own vocabulary far beyond anything I could have shown him.”