From the drums’ opening cadence and the joyful exuberance of the music, it’s immediately evident that New Orleans is at the core of Heirs of the Crescent City. The music, by drummer and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, stands as the soundtrack for Sascha Just’s documentary Heirs, which is presently being screened at film festivals.
Marsalis was a good choice for the task as his encyclopedic knowledge of music and ability to play in many styles allows him to investigate this city’s roots and follow the thread to the present day. As a member of the renowned musical Marsalis family, which includes, on his mother’s side of the family, clarinetist Alphonse Picou, Jason is, of course, one of the heirs that the film and album address.
Naturally jazz—both classic and modern—is highly represented on the disc, though other styles that have relied upon the passing on of traditions from family to family, from musician to musician, come into play. A rendition of the Mardi Gras Indian prayer “Indian Red” truly captures the spirituality of the song, with the horns of trumpeter Ashlin Parker and saxophonist Joe Goldberg soulfully replacing the vocals. Next up is a funky number, “Mardi Gras at the Carnival Ball.” Marsalis’ drumming takes off on this fun tune.
He switches to vibraphones on the quietude of “The South Is Asleep,” which, it is explained, is based on the harmonies of Louis Armstrong’s “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” In a similar vein, he calls in pianist Marcus Roberts, with whom he has partnered for decades, for a Thelonious Monk–inspired “Didn’t Monk Ramble,” a solo take on the classic, romping “Didn’t He Ramble.”
Heirs of the Crescent City can certainly stand on its own as an album of good music played by good musicians. As a soundtrack, it also entices one to check out the documentary to get the complete picture.