With each passing year and album release, Jason Marsalis proves he’s entered the rare air of fellow drummer/percussionists like Willie Bobo and Alex Acuña, showing dazzling proficiency on more than one instrument. The difference is that those other drummers doubled primarily on Afro-Cuban percussion (mostly congas and timbales), while Marsalis’ choice is the vibraphone.
For the latest confirmation of this, turn to his new Live CD, with a quartet rounded out by pianist Oscar Rossignoli, bassist Jasen Weaver, and drummer Gerald Watkins, captured at the Little Gem Saloon in Marsalis’ hometown of New Orleans. Its six tracks, all by the bandleader, also showcase the compositional aspect of his talents, as well as his unassuming nature. Marsalis lays out more often than he takes the spotlight, allowing Rossignilo and Watkins to shine during breaks on the playful opener, “Ratio Man Strikes Again.”
During the ballad “Passionate Dancer,” Marsalis and Rossignilo alternate between intertwining melody lines and their own storytelling solos; on the show-stopping “Bourbon Street Ain’t Mardi Gras,” the leader incites fiery reaction from his band and raucous response from the crowd. The first three tracks initially appeared on Marsalis’ latest studio release, Melody Reimagined: book 1 (2017).
The classically tinged “Ballet Class” and “Short Story #1” provide necessary breathers before “At the House, In Da Pocket” closes with a party-atmosphere flourish. Taken from Marsalis’ 1998 debut Year of the Drummer, it punctuates how the youngest brother in New Orleans’ first musical family has made his own mark with sticks, mallets, and pen.