Wynton Marsalis, “Live At The House of Tribes”

[Blue Note Records]

December 2008




Lets let the cat out of the bag, shall we? I’ve got one for you here that, if you are a lover of jazz, blues and masterful recordings, you will enjoy for nights on end. This live recording captures one colossal night of jamming in all its heat, dynamic presence and unrivaled musical achievement. Producer Delfeayo Marsalis (whose own recording gem, Minions Dominion, has graced this review section in the past), has, along with “Jedi Master” recording engineer Jeff Jones, produced a recording that is unparalleled in its capturing of a live jazz Happening, placing the listener right in the thick of all the brilliant action taking place within the cramped quarters of The House of Tribes.

From the first staccato notes bursting forth from Marsalis’ trumpet on “Green Chimneys,” we know we are in for a rare Tour de Force of improvisation, musicianship and sheer will. Marsalis’ first duet with bassist Kengo Nakamura is filled with shouts of delight and slurs from low to high that will have you on the edge of your seat. Next up is the master blowing of Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson on alto sax, entering with a great trill (seemingly out of place), but then weaving wonderfully into the swirling mix. Anderson is a boisterous creative presence, pounding away on large, long held chords slicing and dicing the melody as he goes. Your system will be tested to its limits to keep this combustion within focus, as Eric Lewis pounces on his piano chords behind Anderson, and Joe Farnsworth sets the stage with his dancing cymbals and snare. The brilliance of this romp continues with Lewis’ bluesy chords ramped up against Farnsworth’s furious stick work. In the end, everyone heads on down the street, with Marsalis softly punctuating muted staccato notes around Farnsworth’s receding bass drum. At the conclusion of this singular Tour de Force, you too will be waving and clapping alongside the crowd packed tightly around the small stage.

Marsalis barely catches his breath before he begins “Just Friends” with a light, airy touch of his trumpet, suggesting the contours of the beautiful melody to follow. He slips and slides around, as his able band mates caress the melody along. Marsalis is all Soul and fluid movement up and down his register, a Master of his brazen, singing instrument. There is such a tactile presence to this recording that at this point, one clearly hears the adoring crowd finger snapping along to the beat, while Nakamura slaps on his bass strings behind Marsalis’ swing. Anderson enters from a recessed point at first, breaking up the melody into fragments of triplets. He then comes forward with some long, solid blows to create a gradual crescendo of complex alto runs, encouraged by the whoops and yells of the crowd and Farnsworth’s cymbal work. Farnsworth’s cymbal and stick work are another highlight of this magnificent recording, captured through out in all their full metallic clarity, with up close precision and natural decay. When Farnsworth’s swirling brushes enclose Nakamura’s closing bass solo in “Just Friends”, (as the crowd urges him with the call: “shake your bucket!”) his agile bass runs are captured taut and full. The number ends with Farnsworth’s own display of sparkling drum work leading naturally to Marsalis’ return to the original melody of “Just Friends” in loving, caressed notes.

Marsalis begins “You Don’t Know What Love Is” with the softly spoken contours of the melody and then weaves a solo of such beauty, grace and creativity, that every breath in the House is collectively held. Soft-spoken slurs; hints of melody on the highest blaring registers; bluesy down held notes; all of them are in Master Marsalis’ arsenal in singing this ballad on his trumpet. The recording is so good that every lingering breath and pause is heard, as are all notes brazen and reverberant against the walls of the recording space. Anderson also takes a turn at this ballad, stepping into Marsalis’ footsteps and igniting his big sounding alto in another creative direction. Lewis also takes a beautiful turn here, laying down some slow brewing blues chords and ends up shadow boxing Marsalis on some final, deep touches of color.

Watch out for “Donna Lee”: all furious bebop and blues running wild. Marsalis displays an uncanny ability to never lose his way through the thicket of his torrential blasts and blares, always with an eye to melody and its exploration. Farnsworth is absolutely on fire on this careening number, his stickwork like the engine of a train on a collision course with Marsalis' trumpet.. Ah, and Anderson again, this time showing a furious nip and tuck with Farnsworth’s punches on cymbal and snare. The sheer energy of this number ends with Marsalis tipping his hat to the entrance of the following number, “What Is This Thing Called Love,” that packs a great New Orleans sashaying rhythm to the delight and claps of the crowd. Up and up we go, letting each of these master musicians display their wares. Anderson joins Marsalis in some creative stepping, finding a great swinging melody to blare out on his boisterous alto. Orlando Rodriquez joins in with some resonant conga playing while Lewis takes his time to develop his piano solo, ingeniously constructed from several classic blues rifts. The piece ends in a rollicking Cuban beat before the crowd joins in the traditional New Orleans Shout and Get Organized number, “2nd Line.” Marsalis leads the parade with his blaring Creole stepping trumpet while everyone joins in clapping and yelling, as if Mardi Gras beads were falling from the balconies of Bourbon Street upon this incomparable musical vision. Catch this parade if you can, and keep that Spirit High!

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