The youngest musical Marsalis brother’s “update” consists of his debut recording on vibes after nearly two decades of working and recording as a drummer. But Marsalis hedges his bet a bit, dangling five solo drum kit tracks around the eight quartet tracks on which he’s playing vibes with a formidable trio of young musicians he met at a residency at Florida State University: Austin Johnson, piano; Will Goble, bass; and David Potter, drums.
Just as his drumming is steeped in both modern and New Orleans rhythmic styles, his vibes playing draws on the rich tradition of that instrument. The first two, original, quartet tracks, “Offbeat Personality” and “Ballet Class,” owe a distinct debt to the Modern Jazz Quartet, in both the vibes influence of Milt “Bags” Jackson and, in the formality of the structures and swing of the improvised sections, the compositional influence of John Lewis. Marsalis’ lush vibrato on his ballad, “Characters,” and bluesy phrasing on his “Blues for the 29%ers” recall Bags away from the MJQ.
A medley of “Midnight Sun,” with a tropical bolero-like lilt, and “Seven Come Eleven” from the Benny Goodman Sextet repertoire, pays homage to Lionel Hampton, the latter with commendably ardent swing. “Durango Kid” is a nod to Bobby Hutcherson through a four-mallet rendition of one his favorite ballads. “Western Vacation Ranch,” a 32-bar original, finds the quartet in a relaxed, loping shuffle, a heartbeat tempo that elicits warm, perky solos. The fascinating drum tracks are all architectonically structured and rhythmically precise, recalling the solo work of Max Roach and “Papa” Jo Jones.