A fine line separates old school from old hat, and Delfeayo Marsalis’ The Last Southern Gentlemen dances that line from beginning to end. The album is styled as a throwback, its languid mood and program of time-worn chestnuts meant to conjure, as the trombonist states in his liner notes, an era “when men were gentlemen.” Unfortunately, the result, despite some moments of inspiration, has an antiquated feel that warrants only a cursory listen.
The musicianship is not at issue, with the quartet members all contributing strong work. Marsalis’ rounded tone exudes wistful emotion on “Nancy (With the Laughing Face),” and his muted wah-wah effects grant the band’s take on the Sesame Street theme a wonky playfulness. Bassist John Clayton weaves pensive phrases on “I’m Confessin’,” and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith breaks out the bongos to give “But Beautiful” a Latin-tinged essence. Pianist Ellis Marsalis’ minor-keyed harmonics lend tension to Delfeayo’s composition “The Secret Love Affair,” and when the trombonist lays out on “If I Were a Bell,” the senior Marsalis rises to the occasion with a fast-paced take on Frank Loesser’s melody.