This is some of what I wrote in a lengthy Jazz Times review more than three years ago when The Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration was released as a CD.
Together, the elder brothers are astonishing in their trumpet-soprano counterpoint flurries on “Nostaligic Impressions.” Following Wynton’s wry spoken comment about brotherhood, they have a spirited instrumental conversation in Branford’s “Cain and Abel.” The conversation grows in intensity and becomes an argument before it is resolved more satisfactorily than Cain’s with Abel.
“Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” is no mere indulgent tip of the hat to the tradition, but a reminder that this stuff is in the Marsalises’ New Orleans bones. In his salad days, Ellis worked his share of traditional gigs. He shows that he retained the lessons and knows how to make them work in his modern style. Wynton’s two choruses are full of Louis Armstrong’s spirit, Delfeayo’s simply full of spirit, with one of those piquant runs out of key. I keep zapping the CD player back to Branford’s soprano choruses on “Barbecue.” With his logical construction, audacious ideas and broad, unrestricted tone so unlike the squeezed soprano sound of many post-Coltrane players, this classic solo transcends stylistic categories.
Reservations about aspects of Wynton’s and Branford’s recent work slip into the shadows when I listen to this family gathering.
To read all of the review, go here.
I finally got around to watching the DVD of the concert, which marked establishment in 2001 of a chair in father Ellis’s name at the University of New Orleans. The video version adds a two-Steinway romp through “Caravan” by Ellis and his former student Harry Connick, Jr., a home boy and honorary Marsalis. In an interview, Branford identifies Jason, the drummer, as the “accident baby” who came along twelve years after the third son, trombonist Delfeayo. Marsalis pal Roland Guerin is on bass throughout. Lucien Barbarin sits in on trombone for “Saint James Infirmary.”
With interviews interspersed, the DVD takes a semi-documentary approach. The talk is brief, often witty, and to the point of the music and the natures of the family members. The video I watched was the Public Television version running a bit less than an hour. The commercially released edition is sixteen minutes longer and has additional music including “Caravan,” “Limehouse Blues” and “The Party’s Over.” The production values are solid and unpretentious, the lighting, sound and camera work admirable, with fine directing by Phillip Byrd.
The Marsalis brothers were raised by Ellis and his wife Delores to be staunch individualists. Each is in his own musical world. Branford tells the interviewer that he and Wynton have different approaches to music, that he did not want to do this concert, because he thought it wouldn’t work.
It worked. No one set out to blaze trails in this get-together, just to play well and enjoy one another. Watching an admirable family make good music together was a fine way to start the new year.