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Alvin Batiste : Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste

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Clarinetist Alvin Batiste, whose life as a music educator has taken precedence over his recording career, is heard on one of his rare trips to the studio in this latest addition to the Marsalis Music Honors series. It’s a treat for listeners as well as fans of the clarinet, an often-treacherous instrument not generally employed in modern jazz-and Batiste has largely tamed his instrument’s maverick tendencies.

Recorded in June of last year in New York City, Batiste brought along a rhythm section of pianist Lawrence Fields and bassist Ricky Rodriguez, relative unknowns, as well as veteran drummer Herlin Riley, one of his former students at Louisiana’s Southern University. And he added singer Edward Perkins on four tracks, as well as guest guitarist Russell Malone for four and producer Branford Marsalis, another former student, on soprano, alto and tenor saxes for individual tracks.

Batiste’s darkly mellow clarinet sound is beautifully displayed throughout but is especially glowing on his own “Bumps,” as well as his tribute to his wife, “Edith.” And he clearly relishes a couple of standards, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” and Buddy Johnson’s “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone.” Other tracks of note include “Everloving Star,” written by his son, Maynard, and “My Life Is a Tree,” where Batiste has set music to his wife’s lyrics.

Fields and Rodriguez, young players included in the session at the behest of producer Marsalis, show that there’s plenty of latent talent in the hinterlands ready to enter the scene. Having guest artists such as Malone and Marsalis along for the ride certainly added variety to the session, as well as some really fine solo moments. The vocals by Perkins are inoffensive but also not very necessary.