Ellis Marsalis is known as an extraordinary pianist, influential jazz educator and the patriarch of the renowned Marsalis musical dynasty. His peers, jazz aficionados and many next-generation jazz musicians, particularly those who came up under his tutelage, remain aware of Ellis’ gifts as a composer.
Under the direction of the album’s producer, Marsalis’ son, Jason Marsalis, a fine selection of tunes from Ellis’ rich songbook stands on one recording. The Ellis Marsalis Quintet Plays the Music of Ellis Marsalis isn’t a compilation of previously recorded tunes. Rather, the leader and composer reinvestigates his own material with his working quintet. These guys, saxophonist Derek Douget, trumpeter Ashlin Parker, bassist Jason Stewart and drummer Stephen Gordon, all of whom are decades younger than Marsalis, bring their own fresh energy and flavor to the session.
Marsalis has always represented a certain sense of the timelessness of jazz. He’ll throw in a musical quote or reference to the past as he does on perhaps one of his best known songs, “12’s It.” On the other hand, “Tell Me” shines modern from start to finish with the pianist digging into the tune’s raging tempo, though with his natural ease—he’s never rushed. The horns on the front line are in superb unison and drummer Gordon is dramatically all over the place but always right on time. Watch out for Douget’s formidable solo.
Listeners expect elegance from Ellis Marsalis; it’s an element of his playing that remains a constant and is best realized here on his beautiful intro to “Orchid Blue.” It sways with Parker’s trumpet providing the “voice” of the tune.
There’s a funny little interlude that precedes “Dippy” that is so ’70s, it’s bound to bring a grin. “Dippy” continues the bow to the, well, “Laugh-In” era though it comes around to more recent times by Douget’s blowing.
The album musically moves to some furious hard-boppin’ on another one of Marsalis’ more often performed songs, “Zee’s Blues.” The pianist pounds it, again with his typical relaxed composure. Then “Zee’s Blues” just starts screamin’.
The Ellis Marsalis Quintet Plays the Music of Ellis Marsalis might seem like a rather simplistically humorous title for this fine album. Yet its name tells it like it is—Ellis performing Ellis, a musician who stands as the forever searching master invigorating the tunes of his lifetime.