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Review and photos by Phil OnofrioThe Jason Marsalis Quartet presented an intimate set at the Harris Theater on March 1. This performance was part of the University of Chicago's annual Contempo double-bill event (find out more about this great, cutting-edge musical event here). The youngest of the musical Marsalis brothers was both instructive as well as mellifluous on the vibes, and it difficult to categorize a single genre of jazz in the set as there were elements of bop, swing, and (as to be expected) New Orleans jazz. He even acknowledged the kinship between jazz and classical music. In playing "Ballet Class" from the recent CD, Music Update (see our review here) his bow to classical music was evident in the jazz context.
As an accomplished drummer himself, Marsalis noted how critical it is for the percussion in a Dvorak classical composition to be precise or risk destroying the entire presentation. As with his famous brothers, Jason was imbued with the importance of precision and has earned the nickname "Discipline" for his efforts. Primarily known as a drummer, Marsalis played vibes exclusively on this CD, and he followed suit at this concert, although he couldn't resist clearing the quartet for one impressive extended solo piece on the drums.
Backed by Austin Johnson on piano, Will Goble on bass and David Potter on drums, the youngest of the musical Marsalis brothers navigated his instrument well. As a cross between supplying the rhythmic timekeeping of drums and exploring the harmonic avenues of the piano, the vibraphone sits in an unusual position between two worlds, and it is doubly difficult to master. Addressing the audience, Marsalis acknowledged that without "the father of the vibes," Lionel Hampton, there would be no jazz vibe players. He honored the great Hampton by playing perhaps his most famous composition, "Midnight Sun."
Closing out the set, Marsalis once again took a different direction in song choices, playing a Brazilian song written by Milton Nascimento, "Durango Kid," which was made famous by Toninho Horta. In this concert-ending performance, as on the earlier songs, the atmosphere was calm and relaxed, with drummer David Potter brushing the snares, allowing the vibes, piano, and bass to fully develop the harmonic possibilities and end the night in a compellingly mellow mood.
Check out great Chicago jazz happenings at JazzChicago.net.
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