Jason Marsalis delivers tour de force performance

The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet Review

Of course, it was destined to be a tour de force.

The Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet enlivened B Sharps summer program with its overwhelming technical prowess, great rhythmic approach, cohesive musical ideas, and a beautiful sense of group collaboration.

There were no major key flaws to speak of; only inconsistent swing, often highly abstract but not entirely unapproachable original compositions, and a pervasive sense that the quartet had considerably more to say than the performance let on---or perhaps, allowed.

Otherwise, decidedly minor key stuff. Otherwise, all is, therefore: details, details, details.

One detail that should not go unnoticed: Jason Marsalis (an NEA Jazz Master, part of the hugely talented Marsalis family) is an extremely disciplined leader.

Obviously, his extensive touring plays a considerable part here, but it is striking, nonetheless. It is striking because he puts a premium on tight, staccato playing, and no-frills solos.

On another striking detail (yes, feel free to rue the lack of variety, in word choice) was his erudite yet humorous discussion on instruments, and his mini-lectures on the conceptions behind his original compositions.

The latter was especially interesting for a clue into the compositional ideas, or values, informing his artistic vision: Like Duke Ellington, he believes compositions should have resonant stories, in addition to, solid musical themes.

And like Ellington, perhaps, his explanation behind his tunes seemed more fanciful than apparent. With Ellington, there were three or four different reasons, or meanings behind, “Mood Indigo.”

Take his tune “Off-Beat Personality," which according to Marsalis, is a celebration of individuality against conformity and social ostracism.

No especial instrumental styling deployed readily suggested it, but it could be so.

More supporting his view was the “B.P. Shakedown” which began with melodramatic and witty vibe playing from Marsalis, and was a harmless skewering of an obtuse Republican congressman.

Of course, this is old territory: The artist says one thing, and as in another realm (literature), the polite consensus is to ignore the artist, and plow on with your own interpretation.

That is rather immoral.

Never dismiss the artist.

Anyway that was, however, a needless digression.

The first set was brisk, and the quartet showed itself to be top-notch in its overall tone.

Playing on piano was Austin Johnson, on bass Will Globle, and on drums David Potter. All are former students from Florida State University's College of Music.

As a piano player, Johnson has energy to spare and a lilting style, to boot; on bass Will Globle is controlled and dominates (as far you can with bass), on drums David Potter brings the percussive heat.

On the second set, the group showed consistent tone and strong instrumental expression as in the first.

A few numbers stand out: “Blues for Now” had soul, though it wasn't an original composition and was written by Jason Weaver; “The 21st Century for Trad Band”, which is an original composition for the group's new album, which benefited from excellent drumming and styling by David Potter, great quotations of New Orleans staples such as “When the Saints Go Marching In”, and overall, showed real respect for the pioneer music of the New Orleans brass and marching bands, was another.

Sitting among the audience, taking it all in was famed pianist Marcus Roberts, star of a recent CBS broadcast profile, and jazz professor at Florida State University, and also, Rodney Jordan, an esteemed member of the FSU jazz faculty and excellent bassist.

Without a doubt, Roberts and Jordan, added by dint of their virtuosity, a superlative cap to the evening's proceedings.

But it would be wrong not to describe the encore, briefly:

On piano Roberts attack was sharp, unsparing, ridiculous in its effortless sense of esprit de corps.

On bass, Jordan hanged on with diligent and exciting lines, on drums Potter showed spunk, and on vibes Marsalis had assumed even more flair and a lively sense of the musical dynamics at play, directing and adding to, what was a masterly and rumbustious performance.

Enough detail!

In all, and again: a tour de force.

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Chris Timmons