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New Orleans musicians’ offerings during Lenten season

18th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet
In a World of Mallets
(Basin Street Records)

It’s as if Jason Marsalis wants to joyfully introduce the vibraphone to all who would care to know the instrument better as he opens with a tune simply titled “Discipline” on his latest release, In a World of Mallets. Marsalis, who remains best known as a jazz drummer and a member of the incredibly musical Marsalis family, elaborates on this acquaintance throughout the disc by stunningly displaying all of the vibes’ — and his — dimensions.

As both a player and composer, Marsalis offers straight-up, melodic jazz with a sense of adventure and forward-thinking. The music, such as his aptly dubbed, “Blues Can Be Abstract Too,” and “Blues for 29%,” feels somehow familiar yet unpredictable.

Rhythmic instruments dominate the group with Marsalis’ vibes matched with the piano of Austin Johnson, Will Goble on bass and Dave Potter on drums. He met the three musicians when they were studying at Florida State University with pianist Marcus Roberts with whom Marsalis has been performing and recording since 1995. (Austin, incidentally, is currently living in New Orleans studying at the University of New Orleans.) It’s a highly compatible group with the individuals realizing their natural rhythmic aim while avoiding stepping on each
others’ beats.

Marsalis is very much at the helm for the majority of the album that refreshingly swings, shouts out, dances, becomes quietly introspective and even does a
pirouette on “Ballet Class.” On this tune with its classical overtones, one can visualize the grace of young women in their pastel tutus spinning on their toes.

Each of the quartet’s musicians contributes their own, fine original material and has the opportunity to stand in the center of the spotlight. Potter and Johnson choose to swing it while Goble presents a warm, soft ballad. As an ensemble they make an especially strong impact on Marsalis’

expansive “Closing Credits.” It’s a jazz gem.

In a World of Mallets is a highly listenable, happy album. So happy, that it has Marsalis literally whistling near the CD’s end. And he should be. He’s accomplished jazz for everyday and any day that needs the promise of enlightenment, intelligence and pleasure.

Shannon Powell — Swingin’ Modern

“We’re going to be doing a lot of modern stuff,” Shannon Powell promises of his Thursday, February 21, gig at the Prime Example. Leading a quintet, the drummer, who’s at home in any number of primarily indigenous New Orleans styles, will delve into the songbooks of jazz greats like saxophonist Wayne Shorter, drummer Art Blakey and saxophonist Harold Battiste. The group will include trumpeter Mark Braud, who is equally comfortable in modern and traditional jazz settings, bassist Roland Guerin, pianist Kyle Roussel and saxophonist Roderick Paulin.

Powell digs that there are now weekly jazz shows at the North Broad Street club, a spot he finds reminiscent of the abundance of long-gone places of the past like Gerry’s, in the 7th Ward where the great drummer Smokey Johnson would lead jam sessions on Sunday nights or the club on St. Bernard Avenue where saxophonist Red Tyler would blow with Ed Frank on piano.

“The Prime Example reminds me of old New Orleans,” Powell offers. “The front-of-town has always been front-of-town — the French Quarter, Frenchmen Street — but when you start coming back-of-town it gives you more of what the real New Orleans is all about.”

Powell also has high praise for the Prime Example’s owner, Julius Kimbrough, whom the drummer met years ago when Kimbrough owned the Jazz Showcase.

“He’s a great person,” Powell says appreciatively. “The beautiful thing about him is that the man loves jazz — he loves the music. He ain’t really trying to hustle musicians. He’s not hiring musicians to hustle them. He’s hiring musicians to put some money in their pocket and at the same time he gets to sit down and enjoy himself. It’s coming from his heart. It ain’t about the money. He’s giving back to the musicians that he knows wouldn’t normally get to do something like that. That’s what New Orleans needs — more club owners thinking like that.”

Powell, who grew up in the musically rich 6th Ward, began his career in traditional jazz and made his first professional appearance at age 14 with the legendary guitarist/banjo­ist/vocalist Danny Barker. The drummer, who picked up on modern jazz through the influence of the great drummer James Black, continues to perform in the classic New Orleans style every Tuesday night when he leads the band at Preservation Hall. In March, Powell will join the NOJO Jam band for its Wednesday appearances at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse. Fridays are the drummer’s regular nights at the Windsor Court Hotel’s Lobby Lounge (5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.) and on Saturdays he moves over to the hotel’s Polo Club lounge (9 p.m. to midnight).

All of these gigs represent the different aspects of Shannon Powell’s many talents. Oh, yeah, he can also sing, play tambourine and is a highly entertaining individual.

“That’s what I’m all about,” Powell agrees. “I try to make it interesting. I can’t play the same thing every night.”

Shows at the ongoing “Thursday Night Swingin’” at the Prime Example, which are presented by community radio station WWOZ 90.7 FM and hosted by DJ Soul Sister, are at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

This article was originally published in the February 18, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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