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Delfeayo Marsalis Presents the Uptown Jazz Orchestra: Make America Great Again!

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Is America great, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office? Your answer probably depends on your point of view, your life experience and your economic opportunities (or lack thereof). It’s undeniable, though, that rootsy American music of the kind offered by trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and his Uptown Jazz Orchestra remains richly textured and expertly performed, effectively drawing from vintage and modern jazz styles, blues, hip-hop and spoken word.

Our country is “a melting pot of diversity fighting a juggernaut of adversity,” Wendell Pierce, who played a trombonist on the HBO series Treme, says on the album’s cheekily named title track. It’s a jaunty tune, largely driven by drummer Herlin Riley, that strolls and swings and offers faux-cheery singing by multiple voices. Will the installation of a seemingly myopic reality TV star as leader of the free world cue a new era of meaningful protest music? Stay tuned.

For Marsalis’ sixth album as a leader, he’s joined by his colleagues in a big band that plays weekly in the Crescent City. Despite some fine individual performances, a consistently propulsive rhythm section and a cohesive group sound, these 14 tracks cumulatively come off as somewhat uneven. Two of the most infectious pieces, “Snowball,” from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s book, and “Put Your Right Foot Forward,” are injected with the gritty, crunchy lines of Dirty Dozen baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis. Do you know what it means to miss the New Orleans Jazz Fest? Put on these tracks and be transported right back there.

There are other highlights here, too, including an Ellington piece, the trad-referencing “Second Line,” featuring Gregory Agid’s vivid clarinet work; Benny Carter’s cheery “Symphony in Riffs”; “Skylark,” a showcase for the leader’s agile, sonorous ’bone playing; and a fresh arrangement of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

Originally Published