Melodies suggest melodies that often lead to either new or familiar paths. Think of a song and the next thing you know it reminds you of another. Jason Marsalis uses this reality in, as the title of his latest album states, Melody Reimagined: book 1. Performing on vibes with drummer David Potter, pianist Austin Johnson and bassist Will Goble, Marsalis utilizes primarily jazz tunes as jumping off points for his original creations. In doing so, he respectfully pays homage to the material’s creators and extends the longevity of melodies by giving them a fresh twist.
To explain, the album kicks off with “Ratio Man Strikes Again,” a rethink of “Traneing In,” a John Coltrane classic. Jazz fans will recognize the source of its initial melody and the importance of the strong role pianist Johnson plays in referencing the performance of the late Red Garland. Then, with the urging of Marsalis’ vibes and Potter’s insistent drums, it goes elsewhere, though never forgetting the passion that made Trane’s performance soar.
Perhaps an easier example of Marsalis’ concept is heard on “Basin Street Ain’t Mardi Gras,” a clever and accurate title in itself. It’s a play on Paul Barbarin’s classic “Bourbon Street Parade,” which remains in there, however obscurely to the average listener. Most will recognize Marsalis’ vibes throwing in Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” (“You can feel it all over…”) and the chestnut “Dinah.” Perhaps Marsalis’ reconfiguring these tunes is a new twist on old school jazzers routinely quoting songs within their own works.
Smartly, Marsalis lists the names of his new creations alongside the songs from which inspired them. A few examples include “Just as Cool as the Other Side of the Pillow,” melodically derived in part from “Willow Weep for Me,” and “A Peaceful Silence” from Horace Silver’s “Peace.”
Jason Marsalis wisely looks back while simultaneously looking forward on the intriguing Melody Reimagined.